He looked like someone’s grandfather with a gray beard as he sat bundled up against the early Saturday evening cold on a bench near the front of the Dollar General on Main Street in Ripon. Alongside him was a luggage dolly with his belongings and blankets on top neatly folded.
Just a few doors down were two older homeless women. They were sitting on a bench by the CVS Drug Store as they were eating. Their belongings were neatly stacked and strapped to devices with wheels next to where they sat.
Ripon, some like to say, has no homeless.
Two hours later and seven miles away I encountered a causal acquaintance in the Food-4-Less parking lot in Manteca. He is among the more amicable I know among the homeless. He can carry on a pleasant, intelligent conversation. He is human. And because he is human he has issues.
When the temperature dips to 45 degrees and the clock strikes midnight he’ll be asleep where people toss out garbage.
For those keeping count, the last official “point in time” count in January of 2019 showed there were 218 homeless on the streets of Manteca and 7 in Ripon. Depending who you talk to those numbers are either too low or too high. It’s funny but the ones who believe the numbers are too high believe there isn’t a homeless problem in their community and the ones that say they are too low believe the homeless problem is reaching epidemic proportions. Then there are those who are convinced the homeless is either only a local problem or else it is always somewhere else but not outside of California.
For those with nothing better to do, take the short 15-minute drive to Stockton Metro Airport. Book a direct flight to Las Vegas via Allegiant Airlines. That way you can see how the city that is stealing the Raiders is also upstaging Oakland on another front. Las Vegas has the fourth largest homeless population in sheer numbers anywhere in the United States.
At any given time the city’s homeless population hoovers around 6,000. At certain times throughout the year it is pegged at 14,000.
Why Las Vegas should matter to anyone in Ripon or Manteca has everything to do with the 9th District Court of Appeals and the Las Vegas City Council realizing that just like the odds are stacked for the house to prevail at a casino, the same is true when it comes to court rulings and the ability of cities to deal with the homeless on their own terms.
This past week Las Vegas did something truly remarkable. They made it illegal to sleep on streets and public places in the downtown area and elsewhere in the city as long as there is space available at a shelter. The Vegas Strip is excluded from the municipal decree given it is not part of the City of Las Vegas.
Vegas has some 2,000 plus shelter beds —many that aren’t filled at night — as well a municipal courtyard where they have 200 sleeping mats where 300 homeless show up on a typical night.
Las Vegas Police will issue warnings and even offer transportation to a shelter with an available bed. If that is not successful on subsequent encounters if they do not accept the offer of transportation to a shelter they are rousted and sent on their way with a citation that could cost them $1,000.
In reality no one probably expects them to ever pay the $1,000 fines. Instead the law is to give the city the authority to clear its streets of sleeping homeless as long as there is shelter space available in a bid to reduce a host of related problems. It dovetails nicely into the 9th District decree regarding homeless.
This has made some advocates for the homeless angry.
They say Las Vegas has declared war on the homeless and threaten to sue. Good luck on that one. Say what you want about the 9th District but they clearly carved out a reasonable position. It essentially says that cities that step up and address the basic needs of humans who are homeless those jurisdictions will have the ability not to turn over their city carte blanche to the homeless.
In a nutshell if a homeless person has a place to go where they can be sheltered and sleep like a human they have no fallback to simply do as they please. Hardcore homeless advocates say that is an act of war and have vowed to fight until every homeless person essentially has their own one bedroom apartment courtesy of the taxpayers.
There is a huge jump between basic shelter for people who would otherwise be on the street and traditional shelter. Besides the crushing expense simply giving someone a key to a housing unit costing $150,000 to build a standard one-bedroom apartment it does nothing to address the roots of why someone is homeless.
As long as we play a game of either all or nothing we will not make headway against the growing wave of homeless and the problems they are creating in our community. Those stridently opposing the Las Vegas measure and threatening to sue are doing the homeless they advocate for a huge disservice. The message of the hardcore advocates is clear. In their idea of a perfect world a city like Manteca could do the right thing and build a drop-in shelter but the homeless will still be able to do as they please thumbing their nose at laws that apply to everyone, sheltered or unsheltered. Based on such a position why would any city want to establish a drop-in shelter?
There is a clear signal being sent by the 9th District Court to Ripon, Manteca and other cities like Lathrop. Had Manteca put a drop-in shelter in place after the 2017 point in time count that pegged the city’s homeless population at 88, the situation could be much different today. Instead of having a 200 bed homeless shelter Manteca could have capped it at 78 or so.
That would assume the city put a full court pressure on the homeless not just to access available programs to help get them off the street but also keeep sending or driving the homeless willing to go to the shelter to do so at night or keep rousting them when they sleep in public. Sooner or later they will take the path of least resistance. That means taking a shelter bed or going to another city not in a position to be able to legally roust them as they have no available shelters.
If Ripon put in place a shelter today they have a good chance at keeping the homeless numbers in their town in the low double digits. Manteca lost that opportunity.
Getting a bit ahead of the city but if they opt to go with a drop-in shelter in Manteca on existing city property the most logical place is on the 1.73 acres on the southwest corner of the Moffat Boulevard and Spreckels Avenue intersection along the railroad tracks.
A basic Butler-style building that backs up to both streets with a front and a covered courtyard on the south side will minimize visual impacts. Making sure the sidewalks around it are only 3 feet wide will assure no one can simply drop down to sleep on the sidewalks when the shelter is full.
For the record, this is a location essentially in my backyard as I live about three blocks away. I’m not wild about the idea but I’m less than wild about the city not having any legal hammer on the conduct of many of the homeless who in many cases now have rights that supersede those of sheltered residents when it comes to not having to adhere to basic laws.
Manteca and Ripon could both gamble and not do anything regarding drop-in shelters in their respective communities. Doing so increases the odds they will lose big and be rewarded with even more homeless while at the same time having very little ability to enforce laws regarding where they sleep or camp.