By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
‘Right to Rest’ law allowing homeless to sue for $1,000 would have done more harm than good
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Decriminalizing homelessness makes sense.

There are things one must do in order to live even if you are homeless

One of them is sleeping or simply resting.

That was made abundantly clear by the 9th District Court of Appeals in the 2018 decision Martin v. City of Boise regarding the constitutionality of an anti-camping ordinance.

It is a decision that a host of California jurisdictions covered by the 9th District ruling joined efforts to have the United States Supreme Court to consider hearing an appeal.

The high court, dominated by conservative judges just like it is today, declined to hear the appeal.

As such, the decision stands as the law governing the 9th District that encompasses  California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Montana. Hawaii, and Alaska.

It is what the City of Turlock, and other Valley cities, have been faithfully following as they have moved forward with efforts to deal with homeless issues.

The State of Oregon created a national ruckus with their effort to not just codify, as opposed to simply complying with, the 9th district ruling but to expand on it.

Specifically, Oregon House Bill 3501 — known as the “right to rest” bill  — among other things would allow homeless people to sue for $1,000 if they are harassed or kicked off public land. 

The proposed bill on Wednesday was pronounced “dead” for the current legislative session.

It’s death was prompted in a large part by people who didn’t simply have their fill of homeless problems but were actively engaged to a degree to find solutions that weren’t rooted in a NIMBY approach.

Advocates for the homeless noted it was doing more harm than good.

It wasn’t good optics.

Anyone — law enforcement or John Q. Public — could have been sued for anything a homeless construed of being harassment whether it was to “move” or cease a specific behavior.

It sounds far-fetched, but consider this scenario: A homeless person is sprawled out on a residential sidewalk making it impossible for someone in a wheelchair to pass by without going into the street or onto grass.

They ask the homeless person blocking the sidewalk to move.

Is that harassment?

Under federal law, their needs to be a reasonable accommodation of those with disabilities.

Public sidewalk passage is one of them.

The proposed Oregon law would have allowed the homeless person to sue the person in the wheelchair for $1,000.

As an aside, 10 residents who fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  filed a lawsuit last September against  the City of Portland for allowing tents and other homeless debris to make it impossible for the handicapped to navigate a number of downtown streets.

Many local cities, like Manteca, have struck the balance that the 9th District ruling required by recognizing the fact being homeless per se is not a crime.

They also recognized those who are sheltered or unsheltered have to do certain things just simply to be alive.

Wholesale homeless encampment bans and a 100 percent probation on sidewalk sleeping would not comply with the law.

It is why in Manteca anyone can sleep on municipal sidewalks providing there is adequate clearance between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The foundation of the ruling was simple. Given being homeless per se is not a crime, cities cannot make it illegal to prevent the homeless from doing things that any person would need to do to function such as sleep.

It should be noted the requirement for adequate passage essentially bars the homeless from sleeping on residential sidewalks that are almost all four feet wide.

The homeless can’t sleep in public places closed at specific times such as parks where no one can be — including those that have shelter.

The courts have allowed “reasonable” carve outs of other places that aren’t closed to the public. The city chose to make what exceptions they could apply to the transit center and Manteca VFW, both of which are located on Moffat Boulevard.

Manteca for more than seven years has been working to abide by court rulings whether it is how they handle issues revolving around camping and the process they need to go through to remove illegal encampments.

The Manteca Police along with public works, streets and park maintenance crews work on an ongoing basis to make sure when the rest of Manteca is up that the homeless aren’t asleep on downtown sidewalks and other public locations.

 The ultimate goal is to work with the homeless to get them off the streets. That requires building trust. And that takes time.

It also requires the community’s cooperation. The proposed Oregon law, if it had been pursued here to farther empower the homeless being able to do as they please, would have damaged efforts to move local cities toward a workable solution that helps the homeless and improves the quality of life of everyone in the community.

And if you still embrace the school of thought that the 9th District ruling was insane, consider the following: Arresting, jailing, and prosecuting an individual for sleeping on the sidewalks was costing local taxpayers when all was said and done $2,000 to $3,000 each occurrence.

And given the homeless who had no other place to go were right back the next day doing what got them cited or arrested in the first place, it was sheer madness.

Especially when you factor in they can’t pay whatever fines the court may impose on them.