City of Manteca officials shouldn’t be surprised to see flyers posted around downtown when cold weather sets in that advises homeless of a better place to crash for the night.
The better place is the Manteca Civic Center.
The flyer being prepared by a downtown merchant that is getting frustrated with homeless sleeping in the central district between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. points out the Civic Center at 1001 W. Center Street has partially covered walkways to protect from the elements and is relatively secure as the municipal campus is where the Manteca Police Department is located.
The anti-camping ordinance the city implemented to comply with court rulings several years ago allows for anyone to crash on public property that isn’t either closed to all of the public at specific hours such as parks, secured against public access or doesn’t create an obvious safety hazard such as sleeping in the street or blocking a public sidewalk.
Generally if there is a 3-foot passage to accommodate pedestrians and those that fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public sidewalks are fair game for anyone to lie down on during the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The anti-camping ordinance was careful to not carve out too many areas that were off limits essentially for homeless to sleep. The city bars anyone from lying down at two Moffat Boulevard locations — the Manteca Transit Center and the Manteca Community Center (the VFW Hall). If the city had carved out more exceptions they would jeopardize being in compliance with a settlement of a class action suit brought against the city by four homeless men that asserted their civil rights were violated. The settlement, which led to two Manteca Police officers being assigned to homeless issues includes a healthy effort of working to encourage individuals to get off the streets to avoid a protracted court battle that has seen other California cities universally lose after spending between six and seven figures. The legal costs and payment to the homeless incurred by the settlement Manteca engineered working with legal advocates for the homeless out of San Francisco cost taxpayer less than $50,000.
The library grounds and civic center were not declared off bounds due to the settlement.
When the homeless took over the front courtyard at the library and were trashing the area and damaging city facilities on a daily basis, the courtyard was secured with a wrought iron fence.
While that ended the damage to the courtyard, the homeless recently have taken to sleeping outside of the courtyard fence on a wide expanse of sidewalk along Center Street.
If the homeless heed the advice in the flyers and migrate to the Civic Center the city could opt for more wrought iron fencing to keep the homeless from interior areas or even the parking lots but that could create an interesting backlash from those who feel they are under siege by the homeless and that the city isn’t stepping up its game.
What the merchant and a number of their neighbors want is for the city to come up with solutions that stop the homeless from sleeping in downtown municipal parking lots.
This could get interesting.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com