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How the U.S. Constitution and 9th District ruling on Boise lawsuit steers Manteca
homeless encampment
The homeless keep erecting makeshift shelters on Downtown Manteca’s perimeter including this one just a stone’s throw from both Library Park and Yosemite Avenue.

Boise had no qualms with forcing homeless to “move along” if they bedded down in public areas in Idaho’s largest city.

That prompted six homeless individuals — led by Robert Martin — that were routinely cited for violating the city’s anti-camping ordinance to file a lawsuit contending their civil rights were being violated.

In 2009, the 9th District Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs. The court ruled cities can’t enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds for their homeless population.

The decision — based on the constitution’s 8th Amendment banning cruel and usual punishment — became the law of the 9th District in 2019 when the United States Supreme Court refused to review the ruling.

Manteca had joined efforts to have the high court hear the appeal of the Boise case.

Because the Supreme Court declined to do so, it now stands as legal precedent for all jurisdictions within the 9th District. The list of states includes Arizona, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

The legal precedents that have helped shape the City of Manteca’s strategies of addressing homeless issues are part of the first comprehensive public presentation at the City Council level of what is driving municipal decisions.

As such it is part of a city commitment under the current administration led by Interim City Manager Toni Lungren to be as transparent and informative to the public as possible in sharing what serves as the legally mandated foundation of decisions dealing with the homeless.

The presentation is being made during Tuesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

In terms of Manteca’s approach to homeless issues the 8th Amendment:

*Imposes substantive limits on what can be a crime.

*As such, homelessness is not a crime. Cities cannot punish people based on their status. Homelessness is a status.

*Regulation of conduct is possible. That means the city can adopt and enforce ordinances to regulate, prohibit, and punish conduct. However, doing so to conduct that is involuntary to status such as being homeless is in a gray area.

At the same time the city — just like other jurisdictions — must adhere to the 4th and 14th Amendments as well.

The 4th Amendment:

*Protects against unreasonable seizures.

Government’s interference with a property interest is a seizure.

The 14th Amendment:

*Prohibits deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process.

*Due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard.

Taken together, the two amendments mean individuals who are homeless have a protected property interest in their belongings and are entitled to due process.

That means the city can’t just tear down homeless encampments and haul off items. They must — based on further court rulings — give proper notice before items are removed. Typically, that takes the city, county Caltrans a number of days to comply.

The equal protection clauses in both the California and federal constitutions require that similarly situated perrons are to receive like treatment.

That means city laws must be enforced equally whether someone is sheltered or unsheltered.

If not, unequal enforcement may violate equal protection if there is an intentional discrimination and no rational basis for disparate treatment.

Quality of life laws — sometimes referenced as “anti-homeless laws” — are intended to protect the well-being of residents and preserve the quality of open spaces.

Homeless are more vulnerable to violations because they often inhabit public places. They do so by sleeping or camping in public places or storing their possessions in public places.