Want to see how drug use can destroy a neighborhood?
Mosey on down to the corner of Sycamore and Yosemite avenues. Look on the northeast corner. There stands a two-story monument to the destructive power of drugs.
Back in 2005 Laurie Share — a Marin County resident with a solid background in low-income housing development in San Francisco — bought the building and renovated the structure.
It had the moniker “Meth Manor” before Share stepped up. She gutted every room, modernizing them as much as possible. Two bathrooms were upgraded. She even added communal Internet access as a nod to the changing times for communication and job searches. As added touches decorative awnings enhanced the look of downtown.
It represented an investment of well over $1 million.
Manteca city officials were ecstatic. They had been struggling for years to get downtown cleaned up. They praised the Sycamore Court as a model of how to do things.
When Share provided a tour of her boarding house in 2005 two things struck me hard.
First, the original tenants after the remodel included several young mothers with one or two children.
These were fifteen neat but small rental rooms where she had provided Spartan yet functional basic furniture — a single bed, a dresser, space to hang clothes and a chair. The rooms that had kids in them had air mattresses that were put away underneath the bed.
There is a rule common in such boarding houses and also homeless for women with minor children: No boys over the age of 13 were allowed.
The other thing that stood out was the cost. It was almost $600 a month for a room. It was almost what a one bedroom apartment with kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom was renting for at the time. But instead of 500 to 700 square feet they got under 180 square feet and access to one of two communal bathrooms and no kitchen.
While that sounded expensive it wasn’t given the cost to buy and upgrade the property.
In talking to one of the renters she was grateful for a safe place for her daughter and herself. A son — who was 14 — was staying on the couch of a friend. She was working a 40-hour retail job but didn’t have enough saved for a security deposit. She explained that she was setting aside a little each month and hoped within a year to have enough to secure a typical apartment. She also mentioned during the interview that they had been fearful living in another boarding house that had been overrun by drug users.
A little less than 10 years later the cancer that is drugs claimed Sycamore Court.
A number of tenants were destroying the building to support their habits. They ripped plumbing fixtures off the wall to get to copper wiring. They swiped smoke detectors. They stole fire extinguishers. They pounded holes in walls and broke windows during binges. A number chose buying drugs over paying rent. Residential managers were being threatened by gang members.
Some of those living there were among those that turned parts of downtown into de facto junkie crash pads late at night. Alleys were littered with condoms and syringes. City park workers cleaning Library Park each morning encountered the same in the park and worse in the park restrooms.
Instead of becoming a slumlord Share shuttered the property while pondering her next move.
The next move was made for her by druggies and the homeless flopping in the shuttered boarding house. They started a fire on Oct. 25, 2016 that caused extensive damage.
Drug users are to blame for the loss of affordable housing options, for the desecration of downtown at times, and a financial bloodbath suffered by an owner with a conscience and the financial institution that backed her.
Downtown — for the most part has — secured the day hours. The first steps have been taken by the City Council to regain the night with zoning aimed at keeping out uses that prevent it from becoming an evening gathering of spot for dining and entertainment.
And while downtown will be better off without boarding houses, what happened at Sycamore Court is being repeated in neighborhoods across this nation as well as Manteca.
Drugs don’t just destroy individuals and ravage their families. Drugs do the same to neighborhoods.
Further decriminalization of drugs carries the real high risk of writing off more housing that had once been affordable and secure for low-income individuals and even single moms with children.
Flooding communities with early releases from the state prison system is not helping. Not only do most not secure gainful employment quickly but a fair number return to drugs. It is one thing for communities to try and absorb steady streams of prison releases. It is nearly impossible when they are hit with tidal waves of ratcheted up early releases done in the name of court orders to assure safer standards for those behind bars.
Given those released inmates aren’t returned to the neighborhoods where appellate court judges reside and those who are well off and finance prisoner rights legislation live they will never realize that those new safe living conditions for criminals means the loss of safe living conditions for the economically weakest of law-abiding citizens.
Drug use is not a victimless crime. It has a lot of victims.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.