The man was fast asleep.
His bed was the porch of the old Manteca Bulletin circulation office that once was a house.
He was perhaps two feet, if that, from the edge of the sidewalk along Yosemite Avenue.
Live and let live, right? Well, the homeless man who was perhaps in his 40s had been there at least three nights and had made a nearby vacant field almost directly across from Johnny’s Cafe his personal bathroom.
It was a sharp contrast to a young man wandering the streets in August on a daily basis along Powers Avenue near Lincoln Park. The fact he was pushing a small dolly each time with items stacked on it along with a cat on his shoulder finally prompted me to stop and talk with him. After all, it wasn’t your typical sight. He was 18, had been kicked out by his stepdad, and said he was sleeping in an alley that happened to be in my neighborhood. The next day — after someone else fortunately had noticed the young man and made a few calls — he was able to find temporary shelter. The organization that helped him indicated a couple weeks ago that he was working, going to school and was renting an apartment with roommates.
There are obviously two distinct homeless issues. That is in addition to the numerous families and individuals who bounce from one location to another and occasionally end up on the street for a day or two at a time.
There are workable solutions for those bouncing around and even for the homeless like the 18-year-old with the cat. It takes time, though, and a desire with some type of anchor they can build upon to make the journey that will keep them off the streets.
But what about the others? For want of a better term, the hardcore homeless are here to stay. It isn’t against the law to be homeless per se but virtually all of the behavior they engage in to survive on the street is illegal.
There are two schools of thoughts about what to do or not to do. One believes it makes sense to provide services such as a full-scale shelter and such primarily for single adult males. The other believes doing anything to address the needs of the homeless in such a manner only encourages them and actually will attract more homeless individuals. Manteca has chosen the latter for hardcore homeless.
Here’s a major revelation: It isn’t working.
The number of quality-of-life crimes perpetuated by the homeless is significant. They obviously aren’t arrested for them because there is no room at the inn. And it’s not that they have much of a choice. They have to go to the bathroom. They have to sleep. They have to hangout somewhere. And they have to eat. And because they have to eat, they will engage in all sorts of petty and expensive criminal activity such as stealing copper wiring.
It’s tough to have empathy or sympathy with the hardcore homeless. They are sometimes alcohol and substance abusers. They may not like having to comply with basic rules required to hold jobs. Some have managed to end up on the street because they didn’t want to abide by the rules of the people or organizations trying to help them.
But here’s the problem. They aren’t going away.
So what should Manteca do?
Try creating a homeless park. Put it in the corporation yard in Wetmore Street. Fence it off. Make sure there are tables, trees and restrooms complete with showers. Build a basic shelter similar to mini-storage units with roll-up doors.
If that strikes you as cold and reflecting sub-standard living conditions, consider this: It is much more humane than the homeless bedding down in porches, bushes or in dumpsters, and it certainly is better than them defecating wherever they want.
Then once the homeless park is in place, the city needs to undertake a full-scale zero tolerance policy for homeless crimes that are deteriorating the quality of life in central Manteca neighborhoods as well as downtown.
Until Manteca comes up with some workable alternative, rousting the hardcore homeless is akin to taking a leaf blower to clean your house.
All we are doing is spending a lot of energy stirring up the dust, so to speak, and then having it simply resettle in place.
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.