It started as a gentle rapping on the glass of the Bulletin’s front door.
After a few seconds it became more urgent. The rapping was then joined by a plea for help.
It was just after midnight Wednesday.
The person knocking was a homeless individual.
He’s been in the streets for a number of years. I’ve even have said “hi” to him a few times when our paths crossed when I was jogging.
What prompted Glen, a man in his 40s, to urgently knock on the door seeking help in the bitterly cold wee hours of a new morning with the thermostat hovering seven degrees above freezing was a hideous cough.
He asked me to call 9-1–1.
Long story short, he had been prescribed inhalers for a pre-existing condition. Someone on the street had stolen his earlier that day. Now he was at the mercy of both his affliction and the elements.
The Manteca Fire Department responsed as did a Manteca District Ambulance.
Glen was checked over and then transported to a hospital emergency room.
The firefighters and ambulance crew treated him no differently than they would someone who was sheltered as they should. The same was assuredly true of the medical team at the hospital where Glen was taken.
This little outtake of just one call of many during the course of 24 hours accessing Manteca police, fire, or medical services is not about provoking predictable reactions of outrage, sympathy, or even empathy.
It is an effort to understand how resources are tied up and how expensive and time consuming it is for how we deal with the homeless in any community including Manteca. The 9-1-1 calls run the gamut from homeless blocking sidewalks and such from where they have chosen to sleep, such individuals walking down streets shouting obscenities, those engaging in aggressive behavior around stores, some experiencing a paranoia episode, the few that have been known to walk down streets brandishing weapons such as long knives at their sides, those experiencing medical emergencies, or those involved in criminal activities such as stealing from store shelves or breaking into secured private buildings such as garages to secure shelter.
A homeless individual calling — or in the case of Glen those that do not have their own smartphone to do so and resort to having someone else summon help — is rare.
Almost all calls regarding a homeless related safety issue are made by those who are sheltered. They run the gamut from some of the previously mentioned issues to people seeing smoke from what end up being warming fires along locales such as the Tidewater Bikeway to which firefighters respond promptly and extinguish.
The last time I called regarding a homeless issue was a few years back at 2 a.m. when I was heading home and there was a semi-unresponsive woman lying on the edge of Trinity Street just off Powers Avenue. The police, fire, and ambulance responded. I do not know whether it was an intoxication issue, a medical issue or something else. But one of the first responders noted it was a homeless individual they were familiar with.
Last year Manteca Fire responded to 878 calls involving homeless individuals out of the 10,230 they handled. That is roughly 9 percent of all calls.
That’s less than 0.3 percent of city residents — sheltered and unsheltered combined — accounting for percent of all fire department responses.
Whether that is up or down is not known as the fire department has just recently started breaking out homeless calls to try to get a handle on the scope of the problem,
Rest assured the percentage of homeless-related calls Manteca Police field are significantly higher. Talk to individual patrol officers and they’ll take an educated guess it is 1 out if 5 if not higher.
The reason we need to understand the scope of the problem is not to stoke the flame of outrage or to solicit sympathy.
It’s to get a handle on the excessive cost of using the 9-1-1 response system to deal with issues such as a homeless individual in desperate need of an inhaler and how it is diverting critical resources such as police from other issues.
If there was a clearly established location the homeless could seek medical attention and be comfortable doing so such as a navigation center, the cost to taxpayers, hospitals and ambulance operations will drop considerably.
Getting an inhaler without the need of a fire crew response, ambulance transport, and accessing the emergency room is considerably less expensive.
If there is a better system that can be put in place in Manteca to deal with a wide array of homeless issues we all benefit.
We need to be pragmatic and rational. We cannot ignore court orders or the law. If we do then we risk not only massive lawsuits but we are contributing to the rise of anarchy. Laws fashioned using the legislative process that pass the judicial litmus test forged by the constitution are what keeps the fabric of civilization from unraveling.
At the same time we shouldn’t continue a downhill slide to the point we basically have free-range homeless. In fact court rulings such as the 9th District’s decree regarding reasonable accommodations for the basics needed to live such as the ability to sleep are not carte blanche for the homeless to do as they please.
They provide the basic framework for law and order.
That framework is what has prompted the move toward navigation centers addressing homeless issues throughout the 9th District that includes California, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Navigation centers are not a panacea. But they are an effective way at chipping away at the problem and — if done right — preventing it from getting worse.
The problem Manteca has now is making sure the slow grind of the bureaucracy to move a navigation center forward doesn’t run out of steam to get workable solutions in place before homeless issues overwhelm the community as they have in places such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Stockton.
Our elected leaders — and presumably by extension senior city management du jour — have heard the public loud and clear as they have made addressing the myriad of homeless issues a top priority for Manteca.
But given it has been a top issue for nearly six years plus the city’s progress has been amazingly slow even by Manteca standards.
The real question now is not how bad the homeless problem can get but whether Manteca’s elected and non-elected leadership has the commitment and moxie to deliver.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com