Under eyes of the law, homeless people lack right to exist

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Ameena Golding/Staff

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We may think that the U.S. Constitution provides us with inalienable rights and equal protection under the law. But the truth, as Judge William Alsup made clear Tuesday in a hearing about evicting homeless people from the otherwise-unused land BART owns in South Berkeley known as “Here There,” is that homeless people have no rights and therefore no recourse through a judicial system that elevates property before people and puts the threat of organizational liability above the threat of injury, illness and death.

The judge writes in his decision: “Indeed, the right to be free from trespass is one of the oldest, and most universally recognized features of the law.”

Nowhere in the decision is a mention of a right to exist. If the homeless cannot “trespass,” then there is not a single square inch of Berkeley where a homeless person can legally locate themselves for a 24-hour period.

The judge does not mention a right to exist because neither our Constitution nor our laws provide for such. In our society, it is only through the securing of property — either by purchase or lease — that one gains the right to have a place to eat, sleep and perform other necessary functions a human body requires. We see this principle in action when the only response authorities have to our question, “Where do you want me to go?” is “Not here. Somewhere else.”

The judge states that the possibility that BART may be sued was a key determinant of his decision because “to force BART to host the encampment would open BART to potential liability for failing to police the activities in the encampment.”

But nowhere does the judge mention that a homeless person is subject to the possibility of, by virtue of being on the street, solitude, disease, assault, exposure, theft of possessions (by both the authorities and criminals), harassment, sleep deprivation and the psychological and physical toll that comes with exposure and uncertainty. And the homeless cannot sue anyone or any entity for any of this.

The judge does not mention these things because our laws are written by and for property owners and corporations who cannot fathom — nor would they care if they could — this state of being.

Not only do the homeless have no rights, but also their chances of securing any rights or recourse is essentially nonexistent. We have just seen that the legal system offers little hope. No politician courts the votes of the homeless, and no voter registration drive targets the unhoused so that they can wield their power in an election.

When homeless people do organize, no one listens to them; housed citizens in opposition who know how to pull at the levers of power have their voices heard. When the homeless attempt civil disobedience because no one has listened, they are arrested and often jailed, their meager belongings seized and sometimes destroyed. If there are any homeless people in elected office, I am unaware.

For the homeless, there really is no THERE, THERE.

James P. Massar is a long-time ally and contributor to First They Came for the Homeless.

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  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    It is possible to exist without trespassing on someone else’s property.

    What would you say if someone camped out on your front lawn and said that their right to exist outweighed your property rights? That they have a right to exist – somewhere else, not by taking my property from me.

    You might as well say that people have a right to exist, and so they have a right to steal other people’s money.

  • Man with Axe

    If something is to be done for the homeless it should be done first by charities and then by taxpayers generally, and not by entities like BART that are set up for different purposes.

    There is no reason to think that the BART property in question is a fit place for indigent people to live. Are there sanitary facilities, or are they going to defecate where they stand? Is there food and water available? Are the people there safe from physical assault? I don’t know the answers, but I’m guessing that an empty field owned by a transit company is not set up for human residence.

    The constitution does not provide a right to housing. How could it, since that would impose a burden on other people to provide it. The right each of us has is to develop his human capital to the point where he can earn his living. If there are people who can’t do that they should look first to charitable institutions set up to help such people, or the government should be lobbied to do something. If the government won’t do enough I don’t know why private entities should pick up the slack. The easiest thing to argue for is that someone else should pay for what you want, even if you are a do-gooder.

    • lspanker

      The constitution does not provide a right to housing. How could it, since that would impose a burden on other people to provide it.

      A point worth repeating. It’s not a “right” when its exercise involves putting an involuntary burden on others.

      • Kim Dukes

        Actually the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness isin there.
        The UN DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, to which the united states helped write and ratified, the 25th right is shelter and healthcare.
        The 14th, 4, and 8th amendment of our constitution says you can’t steal our belongings, can’t give us excessive fines, can’t criminalize a status of being that is not whithin out control.
        So yeah we actually do have rights.

        • lspanker

          Actually the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness isin there.
          The UN DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

          So you want to provide them free housing, go ahead and do it yourself. Don’t force the rest of us to subsidize the terminally lazy and ungrateful.

    • BlackConservative

      Just a bangarang comment!

  • lspanker

    What an absolute bunch of babbling nonsense. The druggies, alkies, squatters, gutter punks, petty criminals and derelicts that constitute the vast majority of so-called “homeless” in Berkeley aren’t elderly, disabled, or hard-working souls who one day lost their jobs and found themselves on the streets through no fault of their own. They aren’t in Berkeley because they are employed, attending school, or have local family there. They are in Berkeley because the alliance of militant activists, goo-goo liberals and naive, dumb-bunny college students allows them to squat, panhandle, deal and use illicit narcotics, engage in petty theft, and harass the working housed populace. They are in Berkeley because a half decade of progressive left-wing local politics has convinced them and their supporters that living in squalor and indigence is somehow some form of a civil right…

    • Clark Sullivan

      More hate spewed from a sick, compassionless mind…

      • lspanker

        And as usual, you have no reply of substance (and you wonder why the only upvotes you ever get are your own…)

        • yeah, we saw the substance of your post . you said more than anyone needs to read to know that your soul was left elsewhere

          • lspanker

            Nevermind my soul, how about your brain? Can you put together a reasoned, articulate post to make your case about why you think I am wrong? Or are you the type of person who lets your emotions take control of your thought processes?

          • Clark Sullivan

            There is no why is response to hate other than to crush it at its source. This means confronting hatred at every turn, especially your brand…

          • lspanker

            There is no why is response to hate other than to crush it at its source.

            In other words, you’re too mentally challenged to come up with a coherent response, so you advocate violence instead (which for some reason your little mind doesn’t comprehend to be hatred itself). You’re a walking poster child for the old saying: “That’s why they call it Dope…”

          • Clark Sullivan

            I’ve been reading your hateful BS so long, it has robbed me of mental vitality…

          • lspanker

            I’ve been reading your hateful BS so long, it has robbed me of mental vitality…

            Yeah, right… you never had any mental vitality to rob in the first place, you big emotive crybaby.

          • you seem lonely, demanding attention in the form of responses to your hateful diatribe . prove what you said is true, and maybe i’ll take the time to show you how you’re wrong . for now, all you’ve done is make unsubstantiated claims, then bullied and insulted anyone who calls you out on it

          • lspanker

            you seem lonely, demanding attention in the form of responses to your hateful diatribe .

            In other words, you can’t present any argument to back up your position.

      • BlackConservative

        “Hate” speech and the truth are not mutually exclusive….