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Police Chief isn’t supposed to be the Patron Saint Of Homeless

by Dennis Wyatt for the Manteca Bulletin: 

Go ahead, slam Police Chief Nick Obligacion for his efforts to address the homeless/panhandling/public drug use issues in Manteca.

But while you’re calling him names, contending he’s heartless, plus say all he wants to do is issue tickets and drive the homeless out of Manteca as if he’s a modern-day St. Patrick, stop to consider a few things.

First and foremost he is doing his job. You have the right to disagree with him and challenge his policies but remember he was asked by City Manager Karen McLaughlin at the direction of the Manteca City Council to address the rising number of complaints people have about homeless drug use, defecating in public, aggressive panhandling, and taking over parks. It was Obligacion who felt a more holistic approach was needed. Obligacion is no Mother Teresa nor should he be. He is in charge of keeping the order and peace in Manteca, not ministering to the downtrodden. Not only does he understand homeless issues that concern residents can’t effectively be addressed unless services are provided to those that are willing to play by rules but he also knows there are elements intermixed with the homeless crowd that aren’t exactly folks that most people would want hanging around parks, their neighborhoods or their children.

The chief knows there is no magical cure all for homeless issues. If there were, every city in America would have implemented it. 

The situation can improve but it won’t happen overnight.

Push backs on homeless problems in the past have resulted in improvements but then after the public is happy there is less panhandling and see that the homeless are no longer setting up shop in parks, the pressure is reduced. Then months later the problems start increasing in frequency and numbers once again.

This time around the city has committed to search for a way to minimize homeless problems.

For those that don’t like the “tools” that Obligacion is asking the council to adopt, consider this:  How do you get people to change and seek help if you don’t make it impossible for them to essentially do as they please, break the law, and wreck havoc on the community as a whole?

Sorry but there are options with the Library Park restrooms closed where the homeless don’t have to defecate and urinate in public. All they have to do is walk a few feet farther and ask to have a key to use the city maintained restrooms in the library. The availability is roughy the same hours as the ones in the park. Only problem is the library restrooms may crimp some of the homeless’ style in shooting up drugs and having sex.

In case anyone has forgotten, homeless encampments endangered more than a dozen homes in the past year when fires they started got out of control. Defecating near their encampments creates public health issues. And while not all homeless do it, many steal from nearby homes and businesses to furnish their shelters.

Then there are the homeless who break into vacant properties. In their search for copper, they did $850,000 worth of damage to the former Indy Electronics building. They did hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to homes during the recession that were in the foreclosure process. They are still damaging homes today. Ask some landlords about how much fun it is to have a renter move out and a home sit vacant for a few weeks. If it is in the right neighborhood, the homeless are attracted like flies. Rarely are they good “house guests.” They rip apart cupboards, kick in walls looking for copper wiring, and haul in trash. Plus — there is no nice way to put this — some introduce an odor that has to be removed before a landlord could ever hope to get anyone to consider renting the home.

As for the going through garbage and recyclable Toters, it wouldn’t be an issue if they didn’t break into backyards to do it. And when they finish their search for recyclable cans if they bothered to  put the other stuff they throw on the ground back into the Toters before they moved on, perhaps the city wouldn’t be considering making it a criminal act to rifle through garbage cans while replacing Toters with ones that lock

Everything mentioned so far has been going on for more than 20 years but in the past year it has gotten significantly worse.

Yes, many homeless are home grown but many aren’t. The ones that gather quietly still at Library Park tend to be locals and conduct themselves in such a manner that they aren’t intrusive. But there are plenty of examples such as the gentleman from Washington state who said his relatives wanted nothing to do with him so they gave him a bus ticket to warmer California. He’s well known to ambulance crews, firefighters and emergency room personnel for his frequent trips there for maladies that end up being non-existent.

And contrary to the yahoos — or more precisely bloggers from across the country who demand they be heard on a Manteca issue by jamming city phone lines while vilifying the community and the police chief — there is  healthy public dialogue going on in Manteca about the homeless. Everyone is wrestling with their conscience. Even folks who don’t want to cut the homeless any slack have listened and agreed there are the homeless who not only need help but should be helped. How to go about that without losing Manteca to a subculture of anti-social folks that have swelled the homeless ranks is what the community under Obligacion’s leadership is striving to do.

It’s a thankless job.