There is a misconception out there.
Manteca never declared war on the homeless.
What it did do was put city laws in place to address serious public health and safety concerns.
Then — like every other law on the books that allows for police officer discretion — they enforce the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.
That’s not mumble jumble either.
I see a lot of people on the street after midnight thanks to my work hours. Some are homeless, some aren’t. And more than a few look like they’ve come off a meth binge. Manteca Police are not stopping any of these people by the way they look. They also aren’t enforcing every law on the books to make life miserable for the homeless. Go by Lincoln Park almost any night at 9 p.m. You will see homeless individuals gathered at the lighted group picnic area. They aren’t disturbing any neighbors nor are they mistreating the picnic area. They are, however, breaking the law since parks close at 8 pm. or dusk. Manteca Police know they are there. But again, they aren’t enforcing the letter of the law. They are enforcing the spirit of the law. If someone lodged a complaint, however, they would act on it.
It is called being reasonable. It is a common sense approach.
Not that any lawyer dreaming of getting $200,000 or so in legal fees by suing the city on behalf of those who believe they can push the limits and demand that their rights be superior to everyone else’s rights cares, but Police Chief Nick Obligacion has drawn his share of flak from folks that want to run the homeless out of Manteca.
Obligacion has repeatedly made his position clear as Manteca’s top law enforcement officer: It is not against the law to be homeless.
That said, there are some things that are against laws established to protect public safety and health.
If there is a constitutionally protected right to be able to defecate on the roof of a public library, to urinate on a public sidewalk, to have sex in public restrooms, to use syringes to do drugs in parks, to break into vacant buildings and burn them down after starting fires to stay warm, to squat on private property, to store personal items in shrubs at parks, to commandeer public property to set up camp, to use an amplifier to curse at passing motorists, or to drink alcoholic beverages on public sidewalks then the City of Manteca is in the wrong.
What makes Manteca being sued by four homeless individuals in federal courts for supposedly violating their civil rights to do as they damn well please ironic is that more has been done in Manteca in the past 15 months to help homeless individuals than ever before.
Instead of going through the 18 to 24 month cycle that starts with complaints about the homeless on a mass scale “taking over parks” — and in doing so violating everything from smoking too close to playground equipment, “camping,” drinking alcoholic beverages, and even aggressively confronting other park users by yelling at them or pestering them — then enforcing laws to the letter before entering a fairly long period of calm and repeating it all again, Manteca decided to do something different.
They reached out to community groups to offer help for the homeless to get off the street while at the same time enforcing the rules so everyone — including the law-abiding homeless — can enjoy city parks.
Four of Manteca’s homeless are suing the city so anyone can essentially:
uStash whatever they want in shrubs and such in city parks, leave it there, and not have to worry about city crews cleaning it up and dumping it.
uRequire the city to unlock Library Park bathrooms 24/7 so people have a place to go to shoot drugs, have sex, and to defecate on the floor instead of using toilets.
uDrink alcohol on public sidewalks outside of fast food places where youngsters and families dine.
uPartially block public sidewalks to impede pedestrian access while doing so with an unleashed dog.
uBe able to set up encampments on private property and make it impossible for landowners to get police to have them removed.
uTo be able to sleep on city sidewalks or in doorways to businesses.
Given that truck drivers — the longtime occupation of one of the four litigants — are in high demand, one wonders why he is on the street.
The answer is simple: He exercised his constitutional right to be homeless. He is in the street either by choice or by behavior with the caveat that he will only do what he wants to do.
That’s fine. It is his right.
But it is not his right to expect society to bend to his every whim.
Just like the rights of those who want the homeless run out of Manteca are far from absolute neither are the rights absolute of those that want to be able to sleep wherever they chose, set up an encampment where they want, or take a dump where they want.
Homeless have rights just like everybody else. That said, nobody has absolute rights including the homeless.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.