New Bedford Vagrants Have No Right to Be a Public Nuisance [OPINION]
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell would like to move the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) bus terminal from its current location next to city hall to the Whale's Tooth parking lot. He is not the first to advocate for the move. SRTA suggested the idea some time ago in response to the state's plan to locate a rail stop there.
The Whale's Tooth parking area is not a bad location for a bus terminal. It could serve as a transportation hub that would include rail, bus, and shuttle service to the ferry dock. Fred Kalisz envisioned a transportation hub back when he was mayor.
The current bus terminal has become a gathering place for vagrants and miscreants, some of whom relieve themselves in public view, openly use drugs, and harass others. Mitchell told WBSM's Phil Paleologos that New Bedford has "long had a vagrancy problem" in that area. He called it a "chronic problem" and said attempts to rectify it have been unsuccessful. "Hanging around is a tricky thing because folks have a constitutional right to stand in a public space," Mitchell said.
What it doesn't say in the Constitution is that vagrants have a right to urinate all over themselves and be a general nuisance to merchants and visitors to the downtown area. Mitchell did tell Phil that if they did these things, they would be subject to arrest. But until they are caught in the act, their behavior creates a public health crisis that has yet to be addressed.
Meanwhile, Mitchell stated, "we're going to have to decide together as a city as to whether that's (downtown) the right place for the bus station." The current bus terminal is owned and operated by SRTA. If SRTA is interested in relocating to the Whale's Tooth, I assume it would pay for the new construction.
What becomes of the current structure is what should have residents concerned. Would SRTA agree to sell the building to the city? If so, for how much? What would become of it? If it gets leveled, who would pay the demolition costs?
The "chronic" vagrancy problem in the downtown area should also be of concern to all. Let's hope we don't wait until the bus station is relocated to finally address the growing issue.
We should decide as a city what to do about the bus station. We should also decide as a city what to do with the downtown police station. Too bad Mitchell isn't interested in what anyone has to say about that.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.