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Homeless strategy No. 1: Go after those that give money to panhandlers where it is illegal to do so
No panhandling signs at off ramps are now only deployed at just one interchange — Yosemite Avenue and Main Street — but they are ignored by a significant number of motorists who make it possible for the illegal practice to continue.

It’s been nearly two years since Manteca started actively engaging in trying to address homeless issues that have plagued the community for years but started to intensify in recent years as they have elsewhere in California.

And to give credit to where credit is due, the most visible outcome of that effort — the community resource officers dealing with the homeless that are finally the promised two officers strong after the city struggled more than a year to fulfill the City Council’s directive — is the result of the settlement of a class action civil rights lawsuit brought against the city by the homeless.

The city deserves credit for not only minimizing the financial liability of taxpayers but for earnestly working with non-profits that exist to help the homeless as well as finding ways to try and minimize illegal acts committed by the homeless.

The use of CROs to nudge the homeless into seeking help as well as working to reunite them with their families often a thousand miles or more away is seen as a model effort by other cities struggling with the same homeless issues. The CRO effort has also led to passive enforcement efforts as witnessed by the liberation of the library courtyard at night from being a sort of den of inequity for illegal behavior by the homeless by the placement of the wrought iron fencing.

That said all is not well. And to address issues with a concerted effort should not require the “homed” in Manteca to file a class action suit over their civil rights being violated to spur the city into action.

No one is blaming the city for the homeless problem. But for them to be overly sensitive to criticism is forgetting the fact they signed on — whether they were elected or hired and paid — to provide community leadership on problems such as dealing with the homeless.

And with the next homeless summit looming June 21, there are at least five things the city needs to seriously look at to improve things for everybody and not just meet the minimum requirement of a class action lawsuit settlement that from the perspective of more than a few Manteca residents tipped the scales of justice significantly in favor of the homeless engaged in criminal activity.

Today, let’s examine illegal panhandling.

Here’s what the city needs to do: Amend the existing ordinance panhandling ordinance to impose penalties for those who give money to panhandlers in areas the city has deemed it is illegal to do so as allowed under court rulings.

The city seems to be missing the point of this suggestion. No one is asking the city to declare it illegal to panhandle per se. It’s a ridiculous comeback given such a law can’t legally be imposed.

What is being asked is for the city to fine people who give money to the homeless in areas such as intersections where the city not only has made it illegal to panhandle but has actually bothered to place signs at a handful of such locations.  Once in place, have the police conduct sting operations much like crosswalk sting operations. Word will get out after people are cited and have to pay fines for illegally giving money to panhandlers in an area that is clearly marked as off limits for such activity. Given it takes two to tango, panhandlers won’t waste much time welcoming people home to Manteca at freeway off-ramps if the flow of money dries up. 

Keep in mind it would still be legal to panhandle on public property and along public streets almost anywhere else in Manteca as long as it’s not in a threatening or aggressive manner. That gives panhandlers more than 200 “lane miles” of streets to legally panhandle.

The biggest reason for actually giving this section of the city ordinance some teeth is that panhandling at such locations is clearly a health and safety issue which is why the courts or OK with such bans.

The practice backs up traffic on off ramps often when lights are green. Some impatient drivers will start rolling forward when they see the green even when cars ahead of them can’t because a panhandler has scored with some driver.

It is not usual to see some panhandlers walk down the shoulder of off ramps flying signs while traffic is moving.

And let’s be clear on another point. The city must stop carving out exceptions for soliciting money at controlled intersections whether it is the Manteca Firefighters Association at Main Street and Mission Ridge Drive for non-profit burn centers or the Manteca Mural Society at Main Street and Yosemite Avenue for mural donations.

This is a small step that can pay big dividends.

Besides, as the ordinance sits now it is not worth byte space it consumes on a server.

IN WEDNESDAY’S BULLETIN: The community resource officers need to be more than a morning wake-up service for illegal campers.