So how goes Manteca’s war on the homeless?
You remember the war, don’t you? It’s the one homeless advocates blogging from San Francisco to Key West claim the Manteca City Council and Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion declared 10 months ago.
Judging by how the invisible homeless have fared, as wars go this has to be one of the best ever fought. That’s because the objective is being met.
Since the city led charge started there have been a half dozen homeless that got help getting off the street, additional services have been provided and work is underway to open a homeless drop-in resource center.
At the same time police have made it clear to the in-your-face homeless that criminal behavior won’t be tolerated. Homeless camps are being taken down almost as quick as they appear. Illegal behavior that kept families away from some parks is almost non-existent.
But what about all of those so-called anti-homeless laws Manteca passed that prompted the city to set up a separate line to field all of the irate calls they received from people who had never heard of Manteca until some self-righteous homeless advocates posted vile about the city’s actions on the Internet?
They have been applied as Manteca Police applies most laws namely by the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.
The concept is simple. Those creating problems are the ones that are targeted.
It is illegal by law to essentially sleep on the street, figuratively and literally. But if you look closely enough there are dozens of people doing that and the police pass them all the time.
The truth is they don’t cruise alleys, parking lots, and check cubbyholes looking for homeless who are sleeping. The reason is simple. Either they do not receive complaints about them or they do not make themselves visible which is actually one in the same.
There is a homeless man, as an example, who has been sleeping three to four hours at a time after 7 p.m. in the recessed doorway entry in the 500 block of East Yosemite Avenue. He’s not there every night. And when he leaves, you can’t tell he was there. No garbage is left behind and there is no urination or such.
For the past year or so, a homeless individual in a Chrysler mini-van backs into a parking lot space in the 600 block of East Yosemite typically sometime after 11 p.m., two or three times a week. They are gone by dawn.
During mid-afternoon, an older gentleman in a mini-van backs into a parking space under the solar panels in the transit center parking lot on Moffat Boulevard. He will spend several hours there, typically eating while listening to music on a radio that is turned down low. Sometimes he appears to be reading a book.
There are others. But you have to look for them as they don’t call attention to themselves.
They don’t block sidewalks. They don’t spew expletives at you while passing you on the street. They don’t urinate in clear view of half the world. They don’t rifle through dumpsters tossing trash on the ground and leaving it there. They don’t build illegal encampments. They don’t commit petty thefts. They don’t get plastered or shoot up drugs.
Obligacion and his predecessors have said over and over again being homeless is not a crime.
What is a crime is criminal behavior. It’s as simple as that.
In the past 24 years there have been perhaps a dozen or so intense crackdowns by Manteca police on the homeless after brazen behavior frustrated law-abiding citizens to the point they applied pressure to elected leaders who in turn pressed the city manager and police chief to take action.
The campaign usually lasts for four to six months. The visible problems dissipate. Then police back off. It stays relatively acceptable for perhaps a year at most and then the chaos returns. People get fed up and the cycle starts all again.
This time around it’s different. Obligacion and the Manteca Police Department in concert with community organizations are taking more of a holistic approach. It’s based on making help available to those that want it and taking a zero tolerance toward those that wantonly break the law.
It may not involve a solution that some advocated — a single men’s homeless shelter. And it certainly won’t solve the homeless problem, per se.
But what it is starting to do is provide available resources and getting additional help to for those who need and want help to get off the streets. It’s also clamping down on those homeless that conduct their lives in a criminal manner.
It’s live and let live.
The key now is to keep up the effort and work toward putting solutions in place that don’t end up serving as magnets to draw homeless from other communities.
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.