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Using the homeless as cover
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Imagine how big of an image problem Manteca would have if homeless encampments lined the 120 Bypass transition ramp to southbound Highway 99.

Now hop in your car and drive the Cross-town Freeway in Stockton and take the transition ramp to northbound Interstate 5. Among the California pepper trees in the Caltrans right-of-way there are tents, makeshift shelters fashioned from plastic tarps, more shopping carts than at a Target, and enough debris to fill a convoy of garbage trucks. Even more amazing is the fact no fence separates the homeless encampment from freeway traffic. Less than a quarter of a mile away under the Cross-town Freeway and near water inlets there are dozens upon dozens of more homeless squatters. A big draw for them to set up shop in the shadow of downtown Stockton that is struggling to be reborn as an economic and cultural center that it once was a half century ago for the Northern San Joaquin Valley is a nearby homeless “soup kitchen.”

Calling the homeless a cancerous blight on this portion of Stockton might scream being politically incorrect but it is painfully true. St. Mary’s Dining Hall has sealed the fate of the neighborhood it is in for several blocks in each direction. Parts of Watts looked more inviting after the 1965 riots. The underbelly of society uses the cover provided by the congregation of homeless souls to sell everything from drugs to human bodies.

Even the close proximity of the Stockton Police Department headquarters has done nothing to stem the tide. The reason is simple. There are no citizen complaints of any consequence about what is happening to the area. People have either moved out or have simply stopped trying to fight the tide. Those that stayed behind in housing or in businesses have helped manufacturers of barbed wire and window bars enjoy brisk sales.

This is what Manteca has to look forward to if it doesn’t get its act together.

Manteca’s first concerted effort to deal with the homeless that started 18 months ago is showing some headway. Its concept is simple: Help those that want to get off the street and deal with those that opt not to follow rules. While it is more effective than the previous homeless crackdowns that occurred almost every two years or so after unsavory characters had taken over public places — primarily Library Park — it is only marginally so.

It is that pattern, however, that holds the key to understanding the true homeless problem. It isn’t necesssarily “magnets” such as endeavors as St. Mary’s Dining Hall that provide services to the homeless but rather the cover that a congregation of “hardcore homeless” provide for others that poison communities such as drug users, drug dealers, pimps and street prostitutes. It’s the broken window theory hard at work.

Drug abusers, prostitutes, and the homeless aren’t the byproduct of modern society. They’ve been around since the dawn of civilization.

The cyclical homeless crisis over the years in Manteca is often viewed as this: Once police clamp down on the homeless, the problem goes away.

But how could the homeless go away if there was no place for those that had the will to get off the streets to turn to? The answer is simple. The homeless never went away. They just scattered.

The real problem is what happens when others use the homeless as a convenient cover. While there are obvious drug abusers and boozers among the ranks of the homeless, the problems the “homeless” have created over the years appears to be the handiwork for the most part of “daytime homeless” for want of a better moniker.

They are meth users and other drug abusers that have no life except getting their next high. Not saying that you won’t find hardcore homeless leaving behind syringes and such but looking back at other crackdowns especially at Library Park where syringes and drug paraphernalia were tossed on the restroom floors and stuffed into trash cans you can see what has created the issues with the general public aren’t the homeless per se but druggies and even prostitutes that have followed the cover afforded them by the homeless.

So what can Manteca do?

First, everyone can stop partaking in the myth the homeless are a victim of circumstance as few are.

Life is about choices. And it is also about compromise. Food, shelter, clothing and such aren’t the result of divine intervention. Most of us have to earn the food we eat and the ability to occupy space — land and such — for shelter

So why not make the homeless work? They can log community service — rubbish clean-up, painting, and even landscaping maintenance — performed under supervision in exchange for vouchers for meals and shelter at a government tent city at a locale such as the grounds of the wastewater treatment plant. They can be picked up there for work. At the same time they can also access service to get back on their feet.

As far as the “daytime homeless,” once they are separated from the homeless that want off the street they can be dealt with for their crimes.

To do so, however, would require all of us to stop feeding their habits with handouts.

It is a way of showing real love for your fellow man. Handouts allow them to either stay trapped if they’re homeless or further destroy their lives if they are addicts..