It’s time to have the talk.
Manteca — as well as every other California city — has to face reality. The homeless aren’t going away.
Yes, Manteca is doing an admirable job of connecting homeless that are willing to accept the help and follow through either with relatives who are often states away who are willing to take them in or get them placed in treatment programs. The number is approaching 300 after launching the community resource officer effort 20 months ago.
That’s good but it isn’t the complete solution.
Manteca, with the hiring of the second CRO, will be dedicating close to $200,000 a year to the effort. The CROs do have other duties but the bulk of their time by far is tied into homeless issues that include quality of life crimes that they commit.
It is clear that there is a hardcore group that isn’t likely to come off the streets any time soon. How do you address issues surrounding them as well as those who haven’t gotten to the point they’re willing to accept help?
The homeless, just like those with homes, are mobile. They don’t stay put in one town. They migrate. The homeless aren’t a problem unique to Manteca. Why do you think Ripon has adopted an anti-camping ordinance? It’s not because renegade Boy Scouts are pitching tents wherever they please. And spare the crap that there is no homeless issue in whatever city you want to name in the Bay Area. To this day, I’ve only been aggressively panhandled on three different occasions. Each time it was done by persons that were obviously homeless in front of businesses along Hopyard Road in Pleasanton, the epitome of a Bay Area middle class enclave.
And no matter how much you wish it, no city can legally run the homeless out of town no more than they can people of specific skin tones, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. They have rights as courts have correctly noted in awarding settlements that often are in the seven figures to those who sue when communities try to make being homeless a crime.
Keep in mind that almost 100 percent of the homeless are citizens and not undocumented immigrants. That should make you realize that the latter obviously gets that in order to survive here they have to work. The homeless are citizens who happen to have no homes and can’t legally be committed, be forced to stop abusing substances, or be forced to change their lifestyle that clearly more than a few have no intent to change. It may strike them as too hard or hopeless to do or, as more than a few of us think, they’re just plain lazy.
So the issue comes down to this: How is the city going to protect the rights of everyone as best as they can whether they have shelter or not? It is clear the city has crafted all of the required laws including options that gives anyone the legal right to essentially sleep on city sidewalks where it is wide enough to do so between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Basically the allowed legal parameters means wider commercial district sidewalks on public property is the only place anyone can legally lie down on property that is not there’s and sleep per se although it certainly would be legal to do so in city parks and such when they are legally open and if they aren’t camping.
Having people loitering or hanging around businesses and elsewhere obviously creates problems.
And let’s be clear on one point. A shelter for single adults should not be opened in Manteca. Take a trip to Stockton and if you are still inclined to support one in Manteca, then embrace it being opened near you. An agency or well off individual has the right to open such a shelter in zones where it is legally allowed. The city, however, has no business opening one.
So what is the next step that keeps in mind the rights of everyone and would allow a more aggressive and effective enforcement of quality of life laws that apply to everyone as well?
The city should consider taking the former vehicle maintenance building on Wetmore Street and turn it into a resource center for the homeless where they also could store their belongings that they can access perhaps during a set hour or so in both the morning and in the late afternoon. Other cities have employed garbage carts to act as storage lockers. There could be showers there as well. It would be a place that could possibly serve as a job center for the homeless willing to work and could involve basic jobs such as being on a weed pulling crew for the city. Some might advocate it being a day center for the homeless as well to provide a place they can hang out. That would be a more difficult sell but unless you have some magical and legal answer, it is clear the homeless are going to be hanging around on city streets whether you like it or not.
Just like gun deaths, vehicle deaths, drug abuse, and such you are never going to eliminate the homeless problem. You can, though, reduce the carnage and ancillary issues it creates for law-abiding people who suffer collateral damage from homeless behavior.
Yes, Manteca needs to spend more money. If they don’t the effectiveness of the $200,000 the city is already spending will be severely minimized.
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.