Manteca’s hand in how to deal with the homeless has been effectively tied by the United States Supreme Court.
Less than 30 hours before the City Council was scheduled to decide tonight to whittle down a suggested list of eight locations for a homeless navigation center that could include a drop-in homeless shelter with 218 beds, the high court refused to review a 9th District decision that makes it harder for cities to keep homeless people from sleeping on the streets.
Manteca was one of 20 cities that filed “friends of the court” briefs in a bid to get the Supreme Court to consider hearing an appeal on the 9th District Appellate Court ruling regarding Boise, Idaho law that made it illegal for the homeless to sleep on the street.
The court ruled that Boise could not constitutionally make it a crime for the homeless to sleep on the streets or in public places if there is no shelter available for the homeless.
“Essentially the court said we can’t enforce our laws if we don’t have beds for the homeless,” said Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu. “If (we don’t provide the beds) the homeless will be able to take over the city and we can’t do anything about it.”
Cantu’s blunt assessment summarizes what legal experts have been saying since the original 9th District ruling was made.
Manteca, for example, can’t enforce its anti-camping ordinance regarding sleeping in various public places such as outside the library, in parking lots, in cars on the street or even on sidewalks that are wide enough to accommodate someone sleeping and someone walking by outside of the allowed hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Cantu said he understands residents want laws enforced that restrict where homeless can sleep as well as other quality of life issues. He noted when solutions are advanced the same people often slam any expenditure of public funds to get a possible solution in place.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Cantu said.
As it stands now based on legal precedent Manteca will need to build a drop-in shelter with space for up to 218 homeless — the number is based on the last point in time count of the unsheltered conducted in January — if they want to enforce homeless camping laws.
Any time there are beds available and a homeless person won’t go to the shelter, law enforcement has court clearance to enforce anti-camping laws.
At the same time the council wants to work with community-based groups to reduce homeless on the street. That is why staff devised the navigation center approach — essentially a robust resource center housing homeless individuals that are referred by an outreach team. But in order to meet the bar set by the courts they would also need a true drop-in shelter that has different dynamics and fluid issues that are less controllable than they would be at a resource center or a navigation center.
Council members have taken a number of calls and email messages from Manteca residents vehemently opposed to the use of the former Kmart building on Northgate Drive as a potential location for homeless services, a drop-in shelter or both.
The council when they meet tonight at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center are being asked to identify two or three of eight potential locations they want examined in depth for possible consideration of a navigation center for the homeless and/or a drop-in shelter.
The other seven sites before the council are:
*The vacant Minerva furniture store at 225 West Center St. at the corner of Sycamore Avenue.
*The city’s Wilson Park on Center Street directly across from the Minerva furniture store.
*The former Salvation Army thrift store at 129 N, Garfield Avenue next to the auto parts store.
*Four available parcels adjacent to each other — one has an old house on it — in the 600 block of East Yosemite Avenue at Fremont Avenue east of the Manteca Bulletin office.
*A vacant industrial building at 1140 Bessemer Ave. in the Manteca Industrial Park.
*The Qualex building at 555 Industrial Drive where the emergency warming center is now in place through March 31 inside a tent in the parking lot.
The navigation concept is modeled after an approach San Francisco is taking.
Navigation centers provide a wide variety of serves including shelter, pet care, harm reduction, meals, and social service connections to clients and provide 24/7 staffing.
The staff report notes the San Francisco Navigation Centers “do not accept walk-ins. All individuals and couples who enter have been selected by the SF Homeless Outreach Team or a centralized referral system. Because Navigation Centers operate 24/7, there are no lines outside in the evening, and guests are not exited onto the street in the morning.”
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