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Homeless: Can Cantu do what city can’t do?
letter to editor

 “How many buildings will have to burn?”
It’s not a rhetorical question that Ben Cantu is asking.
He sees the obvious connection between “fires of suspicious origin” and the fact buildings that have a tendency to go up in flames in Manteca have been gathering places for the homeless.
Are there arsonists among the homeless? If that were the case Manteca would have looked like parts of Napa and Santa Rosa years ago.
They are homeless warming fires in most cases or — as has happened in the past — cooking fires that have gotten out of control. In a way it’s like an improperly attended or inadequately extinguished camp fire that gets out of control and sparks a forest fire.
Cantu is making his third run for mayor of Manteca in November. His solution regarding Manteca’s homeless quagmire in his own words: “My solution is to actually do something.”
He says that while stressing the Manteca Police Department community resource officer effort has accomplished a lot of positive things in terms of getting some of the homeless off the streets and either into rehab programs or reunited with relatives while addressing some of the quality of life issues.
But he believes the city can do much more to make the situation more tolerable and to reduce the damage the homeless inadvertently inflict whether it is from a warming fire trying to simply survive a cold night or inflicting economic blight by hauling half of creation around in pilfered shopping carts down Manteca’s commercial streets.
One crucial step is creating what he calls a homeless resource center by partnering with non-profits. It would be a place they could obtain medical help, be directed into programs, shower, use indoor plumbing, store their belongings, eat, and sleep.
It’s a step beyond what others have advocated which is a day center for the homeless minus the ability to bed down for the night.
But then again who is fooling who? At some point a place where the homeless can bed down without jamming into doorways, pitching tents along the Tidewater, breaking into vacant buildings and such needs to be part of the discussion.
Count me as one of the “hell no” folks when it comes to the idea of a homeless shelter essentially for adult males. But if we really want to make the situation better for Manteca — and if you are so inclined to commit your sentiments in such a manner to improving the lot of the homeless as well — it is something that needs to be given serious consideration.
Vilify court decisions all you want but you shirk the reality we must deal with. Manteca needs to turn up the heat — no doubt about it. But in doing so they need to have a place for homeless to go especially if they want to be able to enforce laws already on the books without financing world cruises for a small army of lawyers that could step in when they perceive the rights of homeless are being wantonly violated on a wholesale basis.
That means Manteca needs to find the “Goldilocks solution” that neither coddles, enables or accommodates nor goes to the other extreme of making being homeless a crime.
It also requires being reasonable and being pragmatic.
What good ultimately is simply citing homeless for misdemeanor transgressions if they neither pay the fines or spend no time in jail due to prison reform that means many of those convicted of non-violent felonies that would have been sent to state prison are now taking up space in our county jails.
If you want a better situation it may require more than a few of us letting go of our “hell no” positions and working toward a middle ground.
That said it is not unreasonable for anyone to expect the City of Manteca to step up even more given the homeless situation touches on crime, public safety, health, and property upkeep among other concerns that cities are supposed to address. No one can blame the city for creating a homeless problem but they sure can blame them for not taking more steps and further engaging the community while Manteca burns.  
Perhaps a resource center with an overnight element operated in a strict manner accompanied with stepped up law enforcement will improve things measurably.
The only sure outcome that can be predicted is this: If efforts are not stepped up the situation will only get worse.
It does not require sympathy or even empathy. All that is needed is being candidly honest and acknowledging the obvious. The status quo isn’t working.
That said a day center or resource center — whatever you want to call it — that is well-regulated and operated by a non-profit may be a way to start whittling back some of the issues Manteca faces when it comes to the homeless.
Cantu correctly notes such an endeavor should be in an industrial zone. He said he has three locations in mind.
How about this? Instead of crippling the financial ability of a non-profit to make headway with a  day center the city should offer the former vehicle maintenance building on Wetmore Street that happens to be in an industrial zone for a $1 a year lease as a day center.
Whatever you think of Cantu or his proposal, at least he is pushing for a solution in a bid to improve the situation


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 or 209.249.3519.