The message Tuesday was clear: No more fooling around when it comes to the homeless.
The Manteca City Council rejected a staff notion that saving $46,000 so municipal leaders could brag they had set aside exactly 25 percent of the general fund in reserve to show how fiscally prudent they are is more important than taking Manteca back from the homeless.
The game plan so city hall could claim Manteca in the next 12 months would spend not a penny more than they took in and not dip into $8.67 million in unrestricted reserves that’s part of $17 million in overall general fund reserves was to give the Manteca Police Department one community resource officer starting July 1 whose primary duty is to address homeless concerns and enforce the law and then add a second community resource officer on Jan. 1, 2017.
Besides the fact it takes a couple of months to hire and train a community resource officer, Councilman Mike Morowit saw it for what it was — a half-hearted deployment of resources that fell short of the attention the community is demanding that their city government give to addressing homeless issues. Simply put, one CRO means only four days of 10-hour coverage. Two CROs on board at the same time means seven day coverage targeted at peak times of the day along with the ability to overlap one day a week.
The City Council was clear: Hire two CROs and step up the effort dealing with homeless concerns now and make it a top priority.
Anyone at City Hall that thinks the community isn’t getting more that a bit restless about what they perceive as a huge quality life issue plaguing Manteca regardless of which side of the fence they are hasn’t had the experience of Gary Singh, Vince Hernandez, or countless other Manteca residents who are racking up unpleasant encounters with those among the homeless who believe being in your face is a virtue and scamming people is their constitutional right.
Singh, who happens to be running for City Council, has been called things that would make a sailor blush in his efforts to keep certain homeless individuals from panhandling his customers, trashing his commercial property and not camping on his land. He has seen that same person who is the most high profile panhandler in Manteca history laughingly wave about wads of $20 and $100 bills.
And, as Singh will tell you, it’s is far from just being about him. He gets an earful every day from people who are fed up with tent encampments, aggressive panhandling, the homeless sleeping in their front yard bushes, the scattering of trash from dumpster diving and — more and more — urinating where ever they please without any sign of modesty.
The same homeless man that believes Singh’s property is his property also has walked into a downtown business, asked to see some merchandise, inquired about the price, and then said that was too much, slapped half the amount of the item down on the counter, took it and left. The merchant didn’t call the police because she learned the hard way about retribution. Call the police when the homeless urinate against your backdoor that customers use or when they are blocking your front door in the morning because they are asleep or passed out from drinking and you will get a couple of of $1,000 plate glass windows mysteriously smashed shortly hereafter.
Hernandez, who is a seated council member, related Tuesday night how he went to use a ATM in Manteca and noticed a man approach the woman ahead of him who was using it. Hernandez, who hung back a distance like most people do so out of courtesy when someone else is using an ATM, thought the man was the lady’s husband. But when he went to use the ATM the same man approached him and panhandled him for money.
In case the homeless — or panhandlers who aren’t homeless but are scam artists and/or meth zombies — want to know, the municipal code clearly states one can’t panhandle someone for money within 15 feet of an ATM.
Enforcing the law is dicey at best simply because Manteca Police have too many other pressing matters than to stake out an ATM looking for illegal panhandling. That is where the community resource officers come in.
No one is saying give the homeless the bum’s rush. Police Chief Nick Obigacion points out over the past two years without a dedicated officer to homeless concerns they have gotten a half dozen homeless off the street and started on their way of being a part of society.
Unfortunately given the tidal wave of homeless that is akin to using a thimble to bail out a boat taking on water from 50-foot waves.
The CROs will — for want of a better description — enforce the law as well as serve as quasi-social workers. Realistically that is the only way to improve things for the community as well as those homeless that ultimately want to get off the streets.
The perception is that the more aggressive homeless can thumb their noses up at property rights and the law and get away with it with impunity.
It is why more and more people are saying they are going to vote Nov. 8 for the candidates that are making addressing homeless concerns a top city priority and stop Manteca’s downward slide into the abyss that parts of Stockton is now wallowing in.
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.