Norman J. Moore could qualify as the poster guy for the majority of the homeless in Manteca.
While he has issues — who among us doesn’t — he doesn’t fall among those individuals that are aggressive, have severe mental or substance abuse issues, or trashes up areas on a wholesale basis.
Twenty-five months ago Moore was cited under a city ordinance that basically made it illegal for anyone — homeless or not — to camp on private property unless certain approvals were obtained.
Moore, 73, was cited for violating the city ordinance by camping in a field in the 100 block of Pacific Road off of West Yosemite Avenue on Sept. 29, 2017.
The city attorney’s office aggressively prosecuted the citation that can carry up to a $1,205 and/or up to six months in jail. After a year or so in the court system San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus dismissed the case “in the interest of justice.”
To understand why that was arguably the only course of action the judge could take, consider the following:
uBeing homeless, per se, is not a crime based on high court rulings.
uMoore receives just over $805 a month in Social Security retirement to live on.
uThe citation is not complaint driven meaning the owner of the land did not complain although that certainly doesn’t mean they wanted anyone trespassing and camping including Moore.
uUnder state moves to reduce prison population, the county jails these days are filled with criminals who have committed non-violent but somewhat serious crime that for public safety and punishment reasons need to occupy cell space. Even if he was convicted and sentenced by the judge the odds of Moore spending any time in jail is nil.
uThe option of community service diversion program — such as cleaning up illegal homeless camps or litter under supervision of law enforcement — would be ineffective as it wouldn’t change the bottom line: Moore has to sleep somewhere.
There have been 773 nights that have passed since Moore got his citation for illegal camping. Unless he is a zombie that means there are 773 nights where he had to sleep somewhere. Multiply that by 100 to 200 homeless and you can see that issuing citations is about as effective as using toilet paper to wallpaper a room. It is never going to do what you want it to do.
Moore is now working on getting his beef with the City of Manteca for what he describes as the effort “to outlaw poverty” before Joseph O’Neill, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Fresno for federal review and the payment of monetary damages.
This comes as the city has joined other jurisdictions in a bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review a 9th District ruling that essentially says a city can’t make it illegal to sleep almost anywhere on public property if they haven’t made adequate homeless shelter available first.
That means the city’s efforts to prevent the homeless from sleeping on public sidewalks where they are not blocking access and restricting laying down on sidewalks from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. may become unenforceable.
The bottom line for any jurisdiction in the 9th District is it would open up cities to lawsuits if they try to roost the homeless from sleep on sidewalks as well as most public places where access isn’t closed to everyone during certain hours or if it is secured from public access.
What this does is underscore why the Manteca City Council has been working to try and get a more robust homeless resource center — not a shelter — in place working with Inner City Action. If you can get most of the homeless back up on their feet and of the streets you can avoid judicial wrath.
In the aftermath of Gov. Gavin Newsom rejecting a plan to allow the former redevelopment agency owned property at 555 Industrial Park Drive to be sold for exclusive use as a homeless resource center, it is why some city council members in an low-key fashion are trying to prepare the public for what might be the inevitable — if the community wants to be able to restrict where the homeless sleep they will have to build a drop-in shelter for the homeless.
While the city made make another run at getting the governor to support the use of the RDA purchased building for a homeless resource center, if the Supreme Court lets the 9th District ruling stand there will be little if anything jurisdictions in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii can do when it comes to where homeless sleep or camp in regards to most public property.
That would mean the city would have only two alternatives.
They either need to step up social services based efforts in conjunction with the city’s two police officers dedicated to homeless issues to get the homeless off the streets which often times can take months but also means not everyone will be coming off the streets or they can build a drop-in homeless shelter.
With either scenario there would still be homeless on the street as the homeless shelter option would likely require a 250-bed plus shelter to successfully argue there is adequate space for homeless so anti-camping and use of public place laws regarding sleeping can legally be enforced.
There is a third option which is not to do much more than the city is now. That means what you see would be the baseline for a new norm in terms of homeless around the community.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org