She was a young lady, perhaps in her 20s.
Her hair was well-kept. She had a fairly new looking, well-cared for backpack. Her clothes were clean
What caught my eye wasn’t her faded but fashionable purple and pink hoodie. It was that she was fairly well groomed.
It was the fact she was rummaging in the predawn hours through one of the MPRS Hall dumpsters laden with trash from the previous night’s Anderson’s BMX crab feed. She was meticulously going through the smelly rubbish, careful not to make a mess. Occasionally she would reach down, grab some leftover food, and stuff it into the backpack.
I watched for perhaps a minute before going inside to help cook omelets for the Manteca Rotary’s Super Bowl Sunday fundraiser.
For a second I thought about offering her some money but then thought better of it. A year or so ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. But after being aggressively panhandled outside of Manteca stores and realizing on two occasions I had been scammed out of money – $20 once by two guys in their early 20s who claimed they were out of gas and another time by a pregnant woman and her husband who insisted they were stranded and needed $40 – I’ve stopped doling money out of my pocket. The two guys pulled away from the gas station without filling their tank and the pregnant lady wasn’t passing through as I found out a few days later.
That’s why I’ve simply made it a point to restrict my donations to organizations that help the homeless. It is sound advice that Police Chief Nick Obligacion offers when people feel a need to help the homeless.
I mentioned my MRPS Hall encounter with the chief. He noted that perhaps I should take a few of his department’s homeless resource cards and give that instead of money.
As the Stockton-based Inner City Action ministry has proven, we erroneously assume that people in need – including the homeless – are aware of all available resources but simply chose to ignore them. So far from their free Wednesday lunches on Moffat Boulevard, the ministry has gotten five homeless to accept help at their clean and sober shelter. Three have stuck with it including one that within a month had a job and was able to secure a modest apartment so he and his wife could get off the street.
Such ministries certainly do God’s work, but in a way so are Obligacion and Manteca Police officers.
He has made it clear there are two types of homeless – those that want to get off the streets and those that don’t want to do so because they’d have to follow rules.
He was tasked by the Manteca City Council to address homeless concerns that impact quality of life and crime and he’s doing just that. He hasn’t made being homeless a crime in Manteca although some view that as the case.
What he has done by not doing one of the sweeps that police in past years have done to address a surge in homeless complaints and then move on when things quiet down, is immeasurable.
Manteca is moving ever so slowly to address the homeless problem. While his solution isn’t predicated on building a shelter, it is based on a long-term approach seeking solutions aimed at getting those that want to off the street the help to do so instead of creating a warehouse approach. That leaves the homeless actually three choices in Manteca: Accept help to get off the street; stay on the street because they prefer to and engage in criminal activities such as trespassing on posted private property, breaking into empty homes and defecating in doorways; or they can find a way to be homeless and do so without breaking the law.
Obligacion points out police aren’t social workers. Nor is he naive enough to believe the homeless problem can be eradicated per se. But he does understand that the homeless that choose to break the law to survive on the streets are responsible for a large chunk of property damage, vandalism, and health and safety issues that impact the quality of life for Manteca residents.
Some critics slam the police chief for not shifting the effort being put forth dealing with homeless issues to go toward battling other ills such as drug sales. Here’s the rub: Both drugs and homeless issues as well as gangs are cancers on a community. Those three endeavors arguably account for the lion’s share of crime in Manteca whether they are felonies or misdemeanors. You can’t make Manteca an even safer place without addressing all three.
The Manteca Police Department’s effort is also making us all hopefully look a little bit more at what is happening around us in the community.
I happened to come across that young lady again on Saturday after I changed my jogging route on the spur of a moment. She was wearing the same hoodie and was still fairly well-groomed. Nothing splashy, but clean nevertheless. She was also pushing a baby stroller with one hand and tightly holding on to the hand of a young boy as they left a duplex near Doctors Hospital. Both kids’ appearances mirrored that of their mom.
She is obviously one of the invisible homeless, perhaps finding different places to crash while caring for her family.
She isn’t one of those folks that get in your face, block the sidewalk while panhandling, or rifle through dumpsters like Tasmanian Devils.
The bad apples – so to speak – cause not just the problems but distract us from a bigger concern of those doing everything they can but still are clinging to the edge.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.