Homeless Flap Goes International - Brave New Films
Learn more. Subscribe today!

Homeless Flap Goes International

by Dennis Wyatt for Manteca Bulletin:

Manteca’s decision to outlaw public defecation and outlawing the homeless’ ability to set up encampments wherever they wish is drawing criticism from as far away as Alberta, Canada.

Calls started pouring into City of Manteca phone numbers on Monday after they were posted on the Facebook page dubbed “Brave New Film: Justice” beneath a photo of a homeless man camped out under an elevated roadway. It was accompanied with the words, “The City of Manteca, CA, has just made it illegal for homeless people to camp outside even on private property with permission of owner. The city also closed public restrooms so they could hand out more citations. Share because there are better solutions! Overcrime.org.”

There were 3,155 shares as of 11 p.m. on Monday.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin’s office alone racked up 13 calls all from Area Codes outside the 209. The farthest was from Alberta with some coming from Utah. One caller left a message threatening an economic boycott of Manteca saying they drove on the freeway through Manteca two to three times a month from the Sacramento area although it wasn’t clear if they had ever bothered to stop in Manteca.

Other phone numbers that we listed included the city hall number for Mayor Willie Weatherford and the office number for Police Chief Nick Obligacion.

The site contends city personnel fielding the calls “weren’t happy about the pressure being put on them.”

If that’s the case, it’s news to McLaughlin.

Staff dutifully records all comments they are given by callers that want to leave messages and pass it on to the appropriate people. McLaughlin noted the staff was handling an unusual high number of calls and were doing so professionally. When asked, she said most of the callers were not from Manteca.

The Facebook posting used derogatory farm animal terms to describe Manteca Police contending they don’t care about the homeless as humans.

For folks passing judgment 1,000 miles away typing on a keyboard they may have missed a few things over the years such as officers like Mike Kelley working with the church he attends — Central Valley Baptist — to provide hot meals and clothing for the homeless. Kelley also opened his home to the children of a homeless family temporarily so they could be reunited with their parents when they were able to find a stable address.

The Manteca Police Officers Association routinely helps struggling people including buying food and clothing for kids — of whom many meet the definition of homeless — at Christmas. Most of the homeless that Bulletin reporters have talked with make it clear that the police treat them fairly and with respect.

And that doesn’t include the fact retired Manteca Police Sgt. Dave Thompson just stepped down less than two weeks ago as executive director of the HOPE Family Shelter that has assisted more than 2,000 homeless people. He was director for 14 years and was convinced to join by a fellow retired police officer who was working with the homeless at the time.

As for closing the public restrooms, the city did that only in one instance at Library Park and certainly not for the purpose of issuing more citations. Nor was it a unilateral decision by the police.

McLaughlin said the decision of when to reopen the Library Park restrooms rests with her and not the police chief.

She noted the restrooms were closed not to prevent the homeless from going to the bathroom there. It was done out of concern for city employee and public safety. On a daily basis workers were having to remove hypodermic needles as well as used condoms when cleaning the restrooms.

There was concern about accidental needle sticks happening to municipal employees or kids from the nearby playground that used the restrooms. There were also issues with communicable diseases related to the condoms.

McLaughlin emphasized that it is not believed that it was simply the homeless having sex or doing drugs in the restrooms. The city has also been receiving complaints about prostitution in and around Library Park. The closing of the restrooms resolved that matter.

The homeless — or anyone else — are free to use the restrooms at the Manteca Library just yards way from the Library Park restrooms.

But because of problems that were happening in the restrooms there the library instituted a key policy.

Anyone is free to use the restroom but they must ask for a key to the door.

“It is no different than what many businesses do such as CVS Pharmacy,” McLaughlin said of the bathroom key policy.

Downtown business owners confirmed there were instances of the homeless defecting in doorways and urinating on walls long before the Library Park restrooms were locked. Also, complaints were being made about the homeless urinating facing traffic along busy Yosemite Avenue prior to the restrooms being closed as well.

State law already outlaws public defecation and urination. The penal code violations are rarely prosecuted by the district attorney’s office due to a backlog of more serious matters. By codifying such bans in a municipal ordinance the city attorney can prosecute those charged with doing so.

The police chief is currently working on the next “tool” in a bid to address homeless issues with the drafting of an ordinance making it illegal to rummage through Toters where residents place garbage and recyclables.