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Next 111 days determines Manteca’s ability to deal with homeless issues
homeless sleep

The big test starts today.

How well the City of Manteca, the Police Department and we as a community work together in the next 111 days will shape the quality of life in the Family City decades to come.

If the emergency warming center for the homeless the city has allowed to open at 555 Industrial Park Drive does not result in a clearly visible reduction of homeless issues  across Manteca then it is essentially game over.

It is clear that the courts will not allow a jurisdiction to enforce a wide array of quality of life crimes the homeless commit unless the jurisdiction provides “beds” for the homeless to sleep. If there are available beds and a homeless individual refuses to sleep there and instead opts for places where it has been declared illegal to “camp” or block sit/lay prone in public spaces law enforcement can force them to move and even arrest them.

If the next 111 days do not show an improvement that people can clearly see the community’s collective stomach for a permanent drop-in shelter for the homeless will be practically zilch.

That’s because it will be clear a city investment that could require spending up to $3 million to establish such a shelter and whatever ongoing support would be needed in tax dollars to help a non-profit operate it won’t change a thing. The failure of the emergency warming center to make a dent in homeless issues would underscore the argument Manteca would be out millions establishing a permanent drop-in shelter and would have nothing to show for it except perhaps more homeless sleeping in front of 7-Elevens.

The biggest nemesis of the effort underway will be those that believe they are showing compassion for the homeless for taking them food and clothing to places like Library Park, giving them money and even — as one man did last year — dozens of large umbrellas and tents to provide semi-shelter against the rain and elements.

All that will do is undermine efforts to get the homeless to go to the emergency warming center. Inner City Action will provide food, a warm place to sleep, toilets, clothing if needed, showers, haircuts, personal hygiene items, and resources that can provide help with health issues as well as connecting them with representatives of agencies to secure documents such as a Social Security card and such that are needed secure work.

Equally critical is how effective the Manteca Police Department as a whole — and not just the two community resource officers assigned to the homeless — are at not just persuading the homeless to access the emergency warming center but also enforcing what laws they can involving homeless behavior that is problematic and illegal.

Assuming the emergency warming center is effective at reducing community homeless issues as well as helping the homeless, the City Council faces the daunting task of finding a site for a shelter. This will be as easy as convincing Adam Schiff that Donald Trump’s likeness should join those of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson on Mt. Rushmore.

You can probably count on one finger the number of people and/or businesses that will want to be next door to a drop-in homeless shelter.

To the credit of Acting City Manager Miranda Ludlow as well as the Manteca City Council, the city is seriously vetting options involving both municipal property and privately owned buildings. The goal is to bring what are considered the best options to the council in an upcoming meeting, possibly as soon as next week.

Time is of an essence. The longer the city waits to move forward, the more insurmountable the problem could become. Of course, if the emergency warming center proves to be a bust the effort to pinpoint a permanent drop-in shelter and then build one will become a nearly impossible task.

Among private property sites that have been vetted are places like the former Kmart building on Northgate Drive and the vacant Salvation Army store on North Garfield Avenue across from Manteca High. Whether those make the cut of those going before the council has yet to be seen, but both sites pose political powder kegs plus could create more problems depending join how they are ran and if they are situated in the right location for aggressive enforcement of overflow camping.

The city has a few sites that might work. They include several acres on North Airport Way that almost touches Kaiser Hospital as well as the Qualex building. Both are slated to be auctioned off as surplus redevelopment agency properties meaning the city will have to purchase them and do so essentially from themselves.

The Airport Way site has soil contamination issues that have to be addressed that could make that a difficult location to move forward on in a somewhat timely manner.

Qualex, of course, needs work on the 55,000-square-foot building as would any private structure the city obtain. In the meantime the parking lot is good to go for a tent like shelter.

There are long-term issues that need to be addressed such as impacts on surrounding property and businesses.

Then there is the big one: How effectively can the city and police down the road enforce overflow issues to prevent homeless from camping nearby? It’s doubtful given the development that the city would be able to stay on top of it in the long haul.

There is one site that is not bordered by other businesses, is devoid of extensive landscaping nearby, is accessible to the homeless, and can be secured and “camouflaged” with the right moves. It is where the city originally wanted to locate the Moffat Community Center/Manteca VFW Hall. There were even plans drawn up to place it there until it was determined it was a “disrespectful” site do to the parcel’s location.

It is on the southeast corner of the Moffat and Industrial Park Drive/Spreckels Avenue interchange. It borders both Moffat and Industrial Park Drive. It backs up to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the south and borders a rail spur on the east. There are no businesses facing Moffat across the way. It is, for all practical purposes, an island unto itself.

If the city relaxes its parking requirement which can certainly be justified as most homeless don’t drive cars, a bigger building than was envisioned for the VFW Hall can be built there.

To avoid creating “PR issues” for the city, Italian cypress could be strategically planted to block the view of exterior areas at such a shelter that you’d be able to see briefly traveling westbound in the 120 Bypass.

The potential for “overflow camping” and related issues will still exist. Unlike the Qualex site and others the city is looking at, there is “no cover”. That means addressing and enforcing rules won’t require playing a game of hide and seek.

The case for the Moffat/Industrial Park Drive site is strong because it represents the best opportunity to minimize problems in the immediate vicinity, it is accessible for the homeless without putting them in or on the edge of downtown or a business park, the city already owns the land, and the city can design and develop the site from scratch to minimize issues.