There is only one question you need to answer if you favor a homeless shelter for single men in Manteca: Would you be willing to have if within a half mile of your home?
If you answer that question yes and in fact actively advocate for a site for a homeless shelter in your neighborhood then I can’t argue with you.
I do not doubt the sincerity of Ben Cantu. The Manteca mayoral hopeful favors opening a shelter as the solution to Manteca’s growing homeless/vagrant problem. Cantu lives near Sierra High. While he may not have any issues with a homeless shelter being placed let’s say on Fishback Road west of the high school campus, I doubt his neighbors would support the idea or the parents of the 1,700 students that go to Sierra High.
Cantu has mentioned locating such a shelter in an industrial park. There’s only one industrial park that such a shelter could be located in Manteca. That’s the Manteca Industrial Park. Several others who are advocates of a shelter are of the opinion it should go on Moffat Boulevard.
Both locations are within a half mile of where I live. Both locations are within a half mile of Manteca High. Downtown is also within a half a mile as is the Wal-Mart shopping area, the Paseo Villas and several other neighborhoods including those sandwiched between the 120 Bypass and Woodward Park.
Established single men’s homeless shelters are typically at the epicenter of at least a half mile in radius dead zone. Stockton and Sacramento are prime examples.
In both cities shelters attract more homeless than they can house. They literally set up housekeeping wherever they can in close proximity to the shelters for a chance at a roof over their head at night or a free meal.
The impact on a neighborhood or industrial park is devastating. As the homeless multiple and the blight spreads businesses move out, jobs dry up, people leave, and property values plummet.
It’s obvious something needs to be done. But even if you advocate a homeless shelter as a solution – which given the tendency of most people not to want one anywhere near them – that may not be the right solution.
That’s because this city has yet to define the problem. Is it the classic homeless actually living on the street? Is it commuting panhandlers? Is it meth addicts that have a place to crash but are daytime homeless? Is it mentally unbalanced individuals?
And more important, are those the homeless we should really be concerned about?
Manteca Unified has 700 students that meet the broad definition of being homeless. You’ve read their stories on the pages of this newspaper. They range from a straight “A” student and football player that was homeless because his mother couldn’t provide for her children anymore to a teen saved from the streets in Seattle who connected with relatives for a while in Manteca. He ended up living in a donated car his senior year and is working two jobs, has an apartment and is now going to Delta College.
There are other kids out there who are homeless that may not end up being as fortunate. Neighbors called Hunter Davis a vagabond kid with no real home. The 10-year-old never got a chance to even see if he could make it through high school on his own. He got a bullet in his head last month.
This community obviously hasn’t turned a blind eye to all the homeless. There are organizations and individuals doing what they can. But are we doing enough to keep kids without structure and without a home from becoming part of the chronic homeless/vagrant/addict problem as they pass into adulthood?
We can talk all we want about getting high tech tablets into the hands of the kids, but many need something much more basic and fundamental than that. They need a roof over their head, food, clothing, structure, and mentors.
If the homeless summit on Oct. 29 isn’t more than just finding solutions for the hardcore homeless, that’s fine. But in just addressing vagrants and derelicts, we will not even scratch the surface.
And it may not do much to reduce panhandling. Not only does Manteca attract commuter beggars but this city has its share of individuals that have disability income who play the public’s heart strings in search of extra cash. What do they do with this cash? Ask the lady that was livid a few years back after she gave cash to a man who said he hadn’t eaten in days only to learn he used the $20 a day later to spring a Walkman out of layaway at Kmart.
Manteca has a large enough homeless problem of varying degrees that we don’t need a knee-jerk solution as concluding out of the gate that the answer is to open a homeless shelter for men.
The community needs to define the problem, decide what “homeless” group they want to focus resources on and then devise a solution.
What we don’t need to do is enable the hardcore homeless.
Nor do we need to sacrifice a section of town where law-abiding citizens and businesses are located just because someone in another area of Manteca doesn’t want to see a homeless guy camping out in their neighborhood park.
We need a workable and lasting solution. What we don’t need is turning Manteca residents against each other.
If you don’t want the solution in your neighborhood then don’t advocate for it to be placed in someone else’s neighborhood.
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.