Black Friday when most people in Manteca were in the hunt for door busters a trio of homeless individuals had scored their own bargain basement deals.
They had collected a couch — no doubt set curbside by some rather cheap resident who wanted to avoid hauling it to a thrift store or paying dumping fees. Moving a couch around town can be tricky. That’s why they pilfered a pallet jack that will cost some business around $400 to replace.
The trio were under the 120 bridge that passes over Moffat Boulevard struggling to clear the railroad track to take the couch to one of Manteca’s homeless neighborhoods tucked between the Juniper Apartments sound wall and the embankment for the 120 Bypass. It is rivaled in size by another homeless encampment behind Kaiser Hospital as well as a more spread out encampment along the Highway 99 transition to the westbound 120 Bypass.
The next day a water merchant in the Food-4-Less shopping center refused to give a homeless man money who had entered his store. On his way out the man cursed at the store owner saying he only wanted money for food. Did I mention that as the homeless man passed he smelled strongly of alcohol and not the stuff that you rub to rid your body or aches and pains? Given the chilly weather and unforgiving winds Saturday and the way the homeless guy was dressed it re-enforced the assertion many make that the homeless ranks at times are oblivious to the weather even when it gets to the point temperatures are dropping to dangerous levels. That’s because they are either drunk, stoned, or crazy.
Those two snapshots from two back-to-back days should make you think about the cost of homeless on our collective pocketbooks.
First let’s establish some basic facts. The majority of the homeless have some type of check they get whether it is Social Security they earned, SSI for disabilities, general assistance or — in some cases — unemployment or small retirement checks. Many have access to food and clothing assuming they want to take the time to connect with available services. In many cases — some would argue the majority — they use money they panhandle or part of their checks to score booze and drugs.
There are some homeless on the street due to mental issues and addictions whether to drugs or alcohol. Some develop mental issues while on the streets. There are those that are homeless due to rising rent costs, loss of a job, and sometimes medical issues that send them into a financial tailspin. Then there are those who are essentially arrogant jerks who essentially don’t want to play by any rules but they want to milk society. You will also find a few that are basically clean and for whatever reason prefer staying on the street or bouncing around.
Occasionally there are young people on the street as well. Some are there because families have had it with their drug habits. A few are there because they have been drummed out of the foster care system when they’ve reached the age of majority. The former usually find a way off the streets in fairly short order. Others, as those that once were homeless can attest to, develop a comfort zone of living on the streets. That might strike you and me as strange but it makes sense. The streets become their new norm.
It is why the city working with other agencies has tried to coax the homeless off the street while making sure basic needs are met without making them too comfortable. It is why those who have viewed themselves as Good Samaritans in the past by passing out free tents, sleeping bags and even big umbrellas to protect against the rain in winter have sabotaged efforts to be the homeless off the streets and either into diversion programs on their way to self-sufficiency or reunited with relatives. During the past three years Manteca working with agencies and non-profits such as Inner City Action has gotten more than 250 homeless off the street.
Now that the background is out of the way, let’s talk money.
Does anyone have an inkling of how much the homeless are costing the community?
There are times you see the homeless with items such as a $400 pallet jack that obviously wasn't discarded. Given the fact most items have not been reported stolen there is no way the police can nab them for possession of stolen property. The same rules apply to the unsheltered as the sheltered. If the police see you walking down the street with a weed eater they can’t assume it’s stolen or even ask you to prove you own it unless they have a report otherwise that says it has been.
If the police could establish a crime was committed, a pallet jack would exceed the $950 maximum for it to be considered a felony and not a misdemeanor which is essentially “catch and release” with a citation being issued. But just because the value of an item falls into the felony range doesn’t guarantee a stay at the county jail or even prosecution that has any consequence or effectiveness.
Then there are the endless thefts in grocery stores, liquor stores, and other businesses. Employees at a number of stores due to reactions of specific homeless individuals when they are confronted stealing meat and other food are told not to confront them out of safety concerns.
That couch that was being taken to the homeless encampment on Wednesday while eventually be cleared by Caltrans crews at the expense of taxpayers. Other encampments in places that the courts agree are illegal to do so or those that have been abandoned end up costing city taxpayers to clean up. That is on top of boxes of items so-called Good Samaritans set about at places downtown that end up being dumped and strewn around with just one or two times taken and the rest strewn around for city crews to clean up. Keep in mind Manteca Police officers working with the homeless provide vouchers with the Hospice thrift store when they are in need of clothing or shoes.
Then there are the emergency responses — fire, police, and ambulance — when the homeless become ill due to inclement weather or other reasons. Toss in emergency room and hospital costs.
We also know the city is spending $250,000 for expenses associated with two officers dedicated to homeless issues.
If costs to businesses between theft, cleaning property, and repairing vandalism along with city costs, clean-up costs plus what expenses the health care system incurs came to only $2,000 a day that means the homeless are a $1 million a year drag on the collective pocketbook of the city. Given one ER visit if it also includes an ambulance ride is easily a $2,000 hit, the $1 million cost estimate a year is a woefully low number.
It is why a drop-in homeless shelter married with a robust resource center to work to get homeless off the streets could help contain costs and reduce the aggravation and crime associated with many of the homeless.
No one wants to see a drop-in homeless shelter in their community nor do they want to see what is happening now continue or get worse as it will happen as growth continues and housing prices rise. You don’t even need the inevitable economic downturn before things get worse given we are still in a growing economy and homeless numbers are growing.
The choice we must make is how do we improve the situation for everyone — the homeless and the not homeless.
As sad and frustrating as it is to say it, a homeless shelter with a resource center realistically and pragmatically is the only good option.