Manteca has a car campground.
It was originally built as off-street parking for Lincoln Park that is home to Manteca Little League and Manteca’s only municipal swimming pool built back in the early 1960s when the city had just under 9,000 residents.
When it was put in place two decades ago for $110,000, the intent was two-fold. It addressed the need for more parking during organized activities. It also cleaned up a semi eye-sore — an odd city-owned weed-infested parcel adjacent to the Powers Avenue fire station.
Today its primary day-in-and-day-out use is not for those using the city park.
Instead, it is a safe haven for homeless who live/sleep in their vehicles.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning there were nine vehicles parked in the lot at 1:30 a.m.
There is nothing illegal going on.
Laws do not generally prohibit sleeping in cars as long as rules are followed.
It is not private property. It is not in a dangerous spot along a highway shoulder.
There are no state or federal laws that outright prohibit sleeping in cars in public places. It is a matter of safety, given drowsy drivers aren’t exactly safe drivers.
But if you’re experiencing homelessness — or if you are anyone else for that matter — you are not legally entitled to occupy the same public parking space indefinitely.
State and local laws state any vehicle parked or left standing on a street or highway for 72 hours or more may be towed.
The courts do not make an exception for the homeless.
The homeless that use the Powers Avenue parking lot usually don’t start arriving until shortly before darkness on any given day. Most are gone by mid-morning. Some will stay through much of the day.
Three plus years ago when homeless started using the parking lot on a nightly basis, neighbors who live on the other side of the soundwall complained about noise and other issues.
Manteca Police through their homeless outreach officer has apparently worked with the homeless to make sure they police themselves.
It apparently is still working although the only ones that know for sure are the neighbors.
As far as litter and such, it seems to be at a minimum. Granted, city crews do a good job of keeping parks and public places such as municipal parking lots clean.
That clearly is not the case in cities such as Los Angeles.
When neighbors first complained about noise, trash and even cooking fires, they pointed out when they bought their homes that they didn’t expect the city to allow a de facto homeless camp on the other side of their backyard wall.
Clearly the city didn’t either.
Given it is not within the boundaries of a public park that the city can legally close access to all people regardless of their housing status during overnight hours as state law gives them the option to do, the city can’t do much except make the best of the situation.
State law — prodded by court decisions — bars local jurisdictions from outright banning homeless from parking and sleeping in vehicles on the streets or in public parking lots.
Cities are allowed to carve out responsible exceptions. That is why there is a paid security service the city has assigned to make sure car camping doesn’t happen at the transit center parking lot.
That means the city’s only option to effectively keep a lid on the problem is working with the homeless that use the parking lot to remind them to be good neighbors.
You can make a solid case that the overwhelming number of homeless who park and sleep in the parking lot are being responsible.
They are not — for the most part — disturbing anyone although rest assured people likely aren’t wild about the homeless sleeping on the other side of their backyard wall.
Even though it is on fairly heavily traveled Powers Avenue, it doesn’t draw attention to them. That’s because they keep things neat, follow the time limit rules under state law, and for the most part when they have items outside of their vehicles they do so in a presentable manner and put their belongings back in their vehicles when they take their de facto camper elsewhere in the city to do tasks they need to basically survive
They also favor the site because it is safe. It is visible from a collector street and it is next door to a fire station.
People may go on all they want about homeless crime, but the biggest victims of violent crimes committed by the homeless are almost all exclusively other homeless people. There are also nut jobs that aren’t housing challenged, as witnessed in many more urban locations, that attack the homeless.
The next hot spot for homeless sleeping in vehicles is Carnegie Street, Mellon Avenue and Carnegie Court in the Manteca industrial Park.
There are also other favorite spots scattered around Manteca including temporarily on Industrial Park Drive outside the emergency shelter location that will reopen soon for overnight stays when portable buildings are converted to sleeping dorms.
So why, you might ask, the primer on homeless sleeping in cars in Manteca?
There are two reasons.
One is to point out the city is indeed doing things to address homeless issues.
The other is to point out the city has a long way to go in addressing homeless issues.
The fact “street camping” hasn’t morphed into what you see in Stockton, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco is a credit to efforts of the city and not just the police department.
Manteca was able to legally secure the Moffat Boulevard leg of the Tidewater Bikeway — a fairly heavily used part of the city’s park system — from being a magnet for street camping.
There were legitimate concerns about it bordering a city park but it also is a major route to and from Manteca High. There were also safety issues being created by parked semi-trucks as well as homeless camping in vehicles and even old buses.
The city has addressed that issue along Moffat as effectively as they legally can.
They have also taken strides over the years working with the homeless — most of which cooperate — into keeping their presence as unobtrusive as possible.
It goes down to little details such as talking with the homeless in Library Park to avoid milling around the playground equipment that tended to discourage parents with little kids from using the apparatus.
The other problem is the homeless navigation center.
It doesn’t address street camping which will still be legal after it is open.
And since the city is not operating a drop-in shelter at the proposed homeless navigation center, clearly people won’t be allowed to park their vehicles there and sleep in them overnight and then leave as they have been able to do at 555 Industrial Park Drive when it is fully operational as an emergency shelter.
The navigation center is part of the solution and not the end all.
The Manteca City Council would do the community a service by following through on Councilman Mike Morowit’s suggestion to establish a homeless commission to work under the City Council’s direction to explore a multitude of other tools the city needs to address homeless issues from the problems they create to helping them get off the street.
One issue might be exploring the establishment somewhere in Manteca of an overnight parking area for the homeless that is secure and has facilities much like a KOA campground would with access to toilets, showers, running water, and even electricity.
One might think electricity access is going too far, but the ability of the city to eliminate warming and cooking fires also addresses another another public safety issue that the homeless inadvertently create in order to survive.
To stem the growth of homelessness and to get it down to levels that don’t mar the quality of life in Manteca is going to take city officials to be fully engaged with the community working together and finding solutions.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org