Does Man­teca have an emer­gency shel­ter cri­sis?

Manteca Bulletin - - Front Page - DEN­NIS WY­ATT Editor

Are we our brother’s keeper? The an­swer to a de­gree may come Tuesday night. That’s when the Man­teca City Coun­cil will de­cide whether to de­clare that Man­teca has an emer­gency shel­ter cri­sis.

The dec­la­ra­tion opens the door for the Man­teca Gospel Res­cue Mis­sion to ap­ply for a share of $7.1 mil­lion San Joaquin County is ear­marked as part of $700 mil­lion in one-time state funds to ad­dress home­less is­sues.

The Man­teca Gospel Res­cue Mis­sion wants to seek funds to pro­vide health care and show­ers for the home­less working in con­junc­tion with Com­mu­nity Med­i­cal Cen­ters and In­ner City Ac­tion.

The dec­la­ra­tion also re­laxes state code is­sues as long as ba­sic health and safety con­sid­er­a­tions are met to pro­vide emer­gency shel­ter and home­less ser­vices on city-owned prop­erty.

This could open the door for an in­terim so­lu­tion that would make it pos­si­ble for non­prof­its working to help the home­less that want to take the next step.

The city has a former main­te­nance garage on Wet­more Street that is now used to shel­ter solid waste dump­sters.

Given city work­ers were working in the struc­ture up un­til a few years ago it ob­vi­ously meets min­i­mum health and safety con­cerns.

It could eas­ily be trans­formed into a “day cen­ter” for the home­less al­low­ing non-prof­its to gather at one lo­ca­tion to pro­vide ser­vices.

The ex­ist­ing bath­room could be ex­panded in a prim­i­tive fash­ion to pro­vide more toi­lets and even show­ers. That — cou­pled with some strate­gi­cally and dis­cretely placed por­ta­ble toi­lets through­out the com­mu­nity — should re­duce pub­lic uri­na­tion and defe­cat­ing. The home­less are like ev­ery­one else. The have bowel move­ments. You can­not blame gas sta­tions and such restrict­ing or con­trol­ling ac­cess to pub­lic re­strooms they may have. Most home­less would prob­a­bly not want to go to the bath­room as if they are an an­i­mal. As for those who think if the city sim­ply does noth­ing it will re­duce pub­lic defe­ca­tion or some­how the home­less will move onto Stock­ton how well is that strat­egy working? Be­sides it is a real pub­lic health con­cern.

The city could is­sue garbage carts to serve as stor­age bins to re­duce the amount of stuff — or trash to most of us — the home­less cart around Man­teca or try to hide in pub­lic or pri­vate land­scap­ing. The carts could be stored and ac­cessed at the former garage. The home­less have a fear other home­less will steal their stuff. More than a few peo­ple have made it clear the sight of the home­less haul­ing stuff around is a qual­ity of life is­sue that will lead them not to pa­tron­ize com­mer­cial ven­tures near where such stuff is placed as the home­less wan­der around.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief the home­less aren’t ex­actly starv­ing. Var­i­ous groups and in­di­vid­u­als see to that by drop­ping food off at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions that of­ten goes to waste. It’s not that the home­less are finicky eaters. It is why when you give a pan­han­dler food in­stead of money they’re more apt to toss it. They pri­mar­ily are pan­han­dling to get high via booze or drugs and not to buy a meal or se­cure a room. Hav­ing a cen­tral place for a daily meal would elim­i­nate some is­sues and re­duce the waste of re­sources.

There are some that get irked when there is a sus­pi­cious fire in an empty build­ing fre­quented by home­less and the home­less are iden­ti­fied as the likely cul­prits. It’s not a wild con­clu­sion. It’s doubt­ful most home­less are ar­son­ists per se. But they do start fires to cook but mostly to keep warm. So why not have a ba­sic emer­gency shel­ter — mat­tresses on the floor with blan­kets type of thing — avail­able only on nights when the tem­per­a­ture drops be­low 36 de­grees or by some other weather marker?

It would not be a nightly shel­ter but an emer­gency shel­ter based on weather con­di­tions that im­peril health. It’s a mea­sured ges­ture of hu­man­ity. We should not make it com­fort­able to any de­gree to be on the streets as it would make it more dif­fi­cult to con­vince peo­ple to will­ing ac­cept help to start the jour­ney to get off the streets. There’s noth­ing like be­ing drenched in rain night af­ter night to make you re­think your at­ti­tude. But at the same time there is a point where you are en­dan­ger­ing peo­ple in terms of a se­vere health is­sue re­sult­ing from freez­ing weather. You may say that’s their prob­lem but guess who will get stuck with ex­or­bi­tant med­i­cal bills that such ex­po­sure can lead to?

It could also serve as a gath­er­ing place for the home­less on a daily ba­sis giv­ing non-prof­its such as the Man­teca Gospel Res­cue Mis­sion and others a place to build trust and such to get the home­less to ac­cess pro­grams to ei­ther first ad­dress sub­stance abuse and other is­sues or work with them to make the home­less em­ploy­able.

The re­lax­ation of var­i­ous code re­quire­ments by the emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion would pave the way for the best pos­si­ble way to “test drive” a true day re­source cen­ter in Man­teca. Not only does it re­duce the cost but be­cause it is city prop­erty that would be leased to a non-profit, the city can place re­stric­tions such as it can­not be op­er­ated as a full blown shel­ter for sin­gle adults.

Its shelf life is as long as a hous­ing emer­gency ex­ists as de­clared by Man­teca lo­cal of­fi­cials.

It is ac­tu­ally the best of a lot of worlds. The next steps could be taken to ad­dress home­less is­sues. It would re­quire min­i­mal city in­vest­ment. The city would not be run­ning it but as the “land­lord” they could set ground rules.

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