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Patti’s ‘compassionate approach’ to homelessness & why it could work
This 2018 file photo shows the homeless encamped at Wilson Park behind the post office in downtown.


Tom Patti has been called a lot of things.

One of them isn’t a bleeding heart liberal.

Patti represents Manteca and Lathrop on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

He ran unsuccessfully against Josh Harder for Congress in November.

Patti’s a conservative Republican.

And for the record, that is not being redundant.

All Republicans — just like all Democrats — do not fit into lockstep preconceived ideological molds.

To say Patti is passionate — as well as intense at times — qualifies as an understatement.

So when Patti states with solid conviction “it’s not compassion to leave someone to live in squalor and  despair” when talking about the homeless, it might be tempting to write off such talk as an opportunistic sound bite.

It is anything but.

Patti has spent the last six years as a supervisor looking for workable  solutions to address homeless issues with the county.

He led the charge to try and convert an old school campus in eastern San Joaquin County’s farm country into a homeless shelter/navigation center.

It was torpedoed by Stockton-based homeless advocates.

It was too far from Stockton, they argued, even with busing.

A follow-up proposal to consider the former Record newspaper building in downtown Stockton also met with opposition. That was despite it being at virtual ground zero for the largest homeless population center in all of the county.

Patti repeatedly locked horns with those among homeless advocates that were in positions of political power who believed providing housing first was the key.

The navigation approach where the homeless had to agree to be a part the solution by committing to — and accessing — services to get to the root of what they are on the street was considered too inhumane.

That is why housing first became a mantra for many advocating for the homeless.

Then, after hundreds of million of dollars spent statewide over the last four years, to build brick and mortar housing for the homeless, a funny thing happened.

Patti’s point was verified.

That is, if you belong to the old school that believes straight forward hard cold numbers don’t lie.

California’s homeless population went up and not down with the housing first approach.

It is that realization that prompted the San Francisco Board of Supervisor — clearly not a bastion of conservative politics — last year to push for being able to force mentally ill among the homeless to enter programs addressing their mental health.

That, of course, triggered a big pushback among some advocates whose position is apparently based on the belief the homeless should be treated like sacred cows, able to roam where they want, camp where they want, and do the No. 1 and No. 2 where they want.

Meanwhile Patti, along with fellow supervisor Paul Canepa,  focused on a key flaw in how homeless issues were being addressed.

They brought together nearly 100 stakeholders.

There are a lot of services, public and non-profit, focusing on helping the homeless and addressing the problems they create for the greater community.

They saw islands.

Cities such as Manteca, Tracy, Lodi, and Stockton were doing their own thing as well as the county but as separate entities.

They saw silos.

Although, government and non-profits agencies work closely together from the schools to the police to outreach agencies to a large degree in Manteca, it wasn’t everyone that could be part of the solution nor was Manteca’s approach universal within the county.

Patti praised the current Board of Supervisors for taking the lead to move San Joaquin County a step closer to what local leaders like Manteca Mayor Gary Singh and his counterparts in other cities such as Tracy have long advocated: Getting everyone working together throughout the county — cities, agencies, non-profits, and the county itself — to enable a better outcome in the battle against homelessness.

The effort, the board agreed to work toward implementing last week, includes laying four key foundations

*Scheduling regular sit down gatherings of all entities within the county dealing with homelessness so they can share what works and what doesn’t work.

*Communities being able to draw on the resources of each other to plug gaps.

*Tracking homeless individuals countywide once they access service anywhere in the county.

*Staffing to coordinate the effort.

That means someone first helped by an allied agency in Manteca would be in a data base tracking what efforts have been made on their behalf to date if they pop up in Stockton, Lodi, or Tracy.

That way efforts can be built upon and not repeated. It also helps to reduce the gaming of the system that some fear if navigation centers were built in a community could attract outside homeless like a magnet.

Patti is not a Pollyanna.

Just like others working on homeless solutions, he knows there ultimately will be a hardcore portion that can’t be  reached.

But he also knows among the homeless are victims who are being preyed up, raped, savagely beaten, and robbed by those, who for the most part, are homeless as well.

Reducing — and ideally eliminating — those that encamp along the county’s waterways, freeways, and other public places — is the goal.

Patti, though, is quick to emphasize helping the homeless have a better life by making it possible for them to get off the streets is “the right thing to do.”

It is also sound economic policy.

A recent University of the Pacific study that assessed all of the economic impacts of the homeless on government spending ranging from assistance to enforcement efforts, property damage and cleanup expenses, impacts on ambulances and emergency rooms as well as the outlay of non-profits pegged  the annual financial burden created by 2,319 homeless countywide at $130 million.

That’s $60,000 per homeless individual.
 In Manteca, that means the combined cost to the city, emergency rooms, ambulance companies, property owners and such is in excess of $7.7 million a year.

Keep in mind, some of it is opportunity costs as homeless issues that draws public safety first endeavors, as an example, away from proactive policing or fire prevention efforts.

That is $5.5 million annually less than what it was four years ago.

That’s because Manteca — in being fairly successful in implementing a coordinated effort locally that Patti hopes to see in place countywide — was able to take the homeless number in Manteca down from 218 in 2019 to 129 in 2022.

That, by the way, was by far the greatest drop countywide in point in time counts compared to other jurisdictions that were either pushing housing first or weren’t as focused on finding a long-term solution to homelessness as Manteca has been.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at