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LAWSUIT SET HOMELESS TONE

Manteca crafted current effort after being sued in federal court

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LAWSUIT SET HOMELESS TONE

Robert Schuknecht is shown in this April 29, 2016 photo talking with a Manteca Police officer on the sidewalk near McDonald’s on East Yosemite Avenue.

Bulletin file photo/


POSTED September 1, 2017 1:12 a.m.

The man who had the most to do with shaping Manteca’s current response to homeless issues isn’t on the municipal payroll.
It’s Robert Schuknecht. He’s the guy who for over a year blocked part of the city sidewalk by the driveway to the East Yosemite Avenue with his three-level cart stacked with his belongings. He’d often sit on the sidewalk with his off leash dog while strumming his guitar between taking handouts from people and firing up his BBQ in the landscaped areas of an adjoining dental office.
Schuknecht got three other homeless men and obtained legal counsel to sue the City of Manteca on Nov. 13, 2015 in federal court essentially for not providing them shelter and enforcing ordinances that allegedly violated their constitutional rights.
The lawsuit contended:
uThe city was targeting the homeless by locking restrooms at Library Park and turning off the electricity at the gazebo at Library Park so the homeless couldn’t charge their smartphones.
uThe City Council demonstrated they were targeting the homeless because they sent a letter to Assembly member Kansen Chu expressing their concern with proposed legislation that would prevent cities from adopting ordinances prohibiting people from sleeping or resting in a legally parked motor vehicle and penalizing people when they did.
uThere is insufficient shelter space for homeless in Manteca and that the three shelters that exist do not accept single homeless men.
uThe city violated the 8th and 14th Amendments by making being homeless a crime.
uThree municipal codes regarding camping, transient shelter, and storage of personal property violated the 4th, 8th and 14th Amendments.

Steps Manteca took to
avoid a massive
lawsuit settlement
Manteca leaders — seeking to avoid a lawsuit they were advised could end up costing the city millions that insurance might not cover — suspended enforcement of ordinances that were in place to address quality of life issues homeless can create after the lawsuit was filed. And, instead of putting the city’s coffers in the hands of a federal jury they attained specialized legal counsel to see what other cities had in place to address homeless issues that has passed constitutional muster in the courts.
Those steps included:
uEliminating the entire ordinance dealing with transient shelter.
uDeleting “homeless” references in the camping ordinance to make it clear the rules apply to everyone.
uChanging municipal law to comply with court rulings that essentially say the homeless have the right to sleep and can do so on non-secured public property from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day adding the Manteca Transit Center and the Manteca Community Center (Manteca Veterans Center), both on Moffat Blvd., as locations where camping would not be allowed ever as well as locations such as parks that are closed during specific hours as well to everyone. That doesn’t cancel out other laws. For example, the city has to allow sleeping on public sidewalks from 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. providing laws regarding access including the handicapped are observed. That means a clear passage of three feet. It is why sleeping on public sidewalks in residential neighborhoods is virtually universally illegal while commercial district sidewalks that tend to be six feet or wider makes it legal to do so
uModified the personal storage ordinance to note items removed from parks and other locations would be held for 90 days instead of 72 hours as was previously stipulated before being destroyed. That is more robust than the 30-day requirement the courts have insisted on.

Settlement paid $47,000
to homeless &
their lawyers
After those steps were taken, the city approved a settlement agreement in 2016 that covered the following:
uThe four plaintiffs including Schuknecht and their attorneys received $47,000. (The city also incurred nearly $30,000 in legal costs.)
uThe city expunged pending citations and/or charges regarding the three municipal code sections targeted in the suit.
uThe city put in place a community resource officer to help direct homeless to services and deal with homeless issues as well as conduct future homeless summits and seek opportunities to apply for state and federal affordable housing and homeless grants.

The cause of homeless
in Manteca and the
numbers impacted
Agencies advocating for the homeless conducted a population census in four San Joaquin County cities in January 2017.
Although advocates note the count is likely higher as some are typically missed, the snapshot of those physically living in the streets in Manteca was 78. That compares to Stockton with 312, Lodi with 89, and Tracy with 91.
Of the 78 in Manteca at that point in time:
u66 percent were men
uThe homeless ranged in age from 13 to 73.
u64 percent said they had been homeless for a year or more.
u68 percent said they had a substance abuse problem.
u25 percent said they had a physical or mental disability.
uFour were military veterans.
City Manager Tim Ogden in his report to the City Council referenced studies that show the anti-social behavior that some homeless employ — poor sanitation, substance abuse, and panhandling as examples — is not the cause of being homeless but the consequence of being in that state. Individuals become homeless for a wide variety of reasons such as unemployment, abuse, neglect and the inability to cope with major life events such as the death of another person.
Odgen noted that once homeless are on the street, they are caught in a downward spiral that tends to heighten anti-social behavior.
“Understanding better the humanity, causes, and best way of helping those who will eventually accept help, will lead to better outcomes,” Ogden noted in a memo to the council. “In the end, the ideal path to ending homelessness is helping individuals obtain the resources needed to become healthy physically and mentally, financially self-sufficient, and permanently sheltered. Any strategies considered by the City Council or regional community in addressing this complex issue need to keep the end goals in mind.”
The report notes that voter adopted propositions decriminalizing some behavior as well as the state prison/county jail realignment to reduce prison population has made it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to keep communities safe.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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