‘Homeless bill of rights’ diminishes policing authority

homelessIn California, helping the homeless is a popular issue in some cities and some political circles. In San Diego, elected officials of both parties say they don’t just want to reduce downtown homelessness, they want to end it. In Santa Clara County, the leader of the Board of Supervisors last week declared that targeting homelessness was one of his top priorities in 2016. In the state Senate, President Pro tem Kevin de Leon and other Democrats in January unveiled an ambitious plan to build $2 billion in housing for the mentally ill homeless around California.

But advocates of Senate Bill 676, a new bill that would ban police from fining or arresting people for sleeping outdoors, is facing a tough reception.

Sen. Carol Liu, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat who is a sponsor of the bill, depicts it as being about human rights. The language of the measure says it “would afford persons experiencing homelessness the right to use public spaces without discrimination based on their housing status and describe basic human and civil rights that may be exercised without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, including the right to use and to move freely in public spaces, the right to rest in public spaces and to protect oneself from the elements.”

It would also allow homeless people to sue authorities if these rights were abrograted and would mandate that all local communities take steps to minimize the “criminalization of homelessness.”

Bill called counterproductive, poorly conceived

However, the administration of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and local business groups in the state capital call the proposal poorly conceived and warn it could have huge potential unintended consequences.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a community assessment district of Sacramento merchants, approaches the issue from an entirely different direction.

Allowing people to sleep inside cities not only creates a public safety hazard, but it undermines current efforts to permanently house people because it signals that a city is comfortable with people sleeping on the sidewalk, said Dion Dwyer, who oversees homeless outreach efforts for the partnership.

“I want to provide a social safety net that can lift up that person off the sidewalk and into services and ultimately into sustainable housing,” said Dwyer.

That is from an article in the Sacramento Business Journal.

Mayor Johnson has won backing from Sacramento Councilman Jay Schenirer. “We fully recognize the good intent of this measure; however, we do not feel that it will make a positive impact in the effort to reduce and address chronic homelessness,” he wrote last month in a formal letter of opposition to Liu’s measure.

Is Sacramento really ‘criminalizing the homeless’?

Meanwhile, Sacramento Bee metro columnist Marcos Breton is pushing back against some of the tactics and generalizations of those who feel Sacramento is callous toward the homeless. On Jan. 9, he wrote that it was a great misconception that …

… the city is “criminalizing the homeless.” This is a claim often made by people with political agendas. Some are seeking to abolish Sacramento’s anti-camping ordinance, which is designed to prevent people from setting up camps anywhere they wish.

The ordinance is about protecting people and property within the city limits. Protesters camped at City Hall for more than a month, however, are challenging the law, saying it unfairly discriminates against the homeless.

This being Sacramento, where political slogans are hatched and exported statewide, the “criminalizing” concept is being aggressively promoted, an incomplete narrative spread around a liberal city often flummoxed by its homeless problems.

The tension between the views of Liu and those of Breton and the Sacramento establishment appears to be one more example of the intractability of the homeless debate. Those who argue in an abstract that governments should do much more to help the homeless are countered by those who have been on the front lines of trying to directly address the problem. Many of the latter group maintain that because so many homeless people are mentally ill, the problem isn’t open to simple solutions involving using more government resources.

Liu’s bill is likely to showcase this argument and launch a statewide debate over whether local laws against sleeping in public areas are reasonable attempts to promote public safety and public health or are tantamount to criminalizing the behavior of some of the poorest, most troubled people in California.

The bill has yet to be subjected to a Senate committee vote. Liu has already amended the measure once to address concerns its language was unnecesarily broad.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

L.A. Turns to Feds for Help With Homeless

homelessStruggling to slow L.A.’s spike in homelessness, city leaders have booked an appointment with the federal government.

“Secretary Julian Castro will be in Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council members and county supervisors, HUD spokesman George Gonzalez said,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Hoping for cash

Despite the crisis, which has drawn unfavorable media attention amid L.A.’s recent boom in homeless-heavy areas like the city’s downtown, expectations were set low. “No major announcement was expected to come out of the meeting. Gonzalez said it was intended as an ‘exchange of ideas’ on the state of homelessness in Los Angeles,” the Times added.

City leaders hope the agency’s concern could manifest in additional funds to fight what Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared a public emergency around homelessness, as Los Angeles city and country governments both prioritized the issue. As the New York Times reported last month, the announcement marked the first time a U.S. city had made such a proclamation. “National experts on homelessness say Los Angeles has had a severe and persistent problem with people living on the streets rather than in shelters — the official estimate is 26,000,” noted the Times.

Uncertain goals

After announcing his initiative, Garcetti said, “he received a call from Castro, who had toured Skid Row earlier this year,” as the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

“The focus on homelessness came after a count conducted this year by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed that the number of homeless people in the county increased by 12 percent since 2013. More than 44,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County and about 70 percent of them live on the streets, in vehicles or in make-shift encampments.”

Questions remained as to what exactly Castro intended to accomplish through his visit. “He did indicate several times that HUD approved of the way that local elected officials were tackling homelessness,” Southern California Public Radio observed; in remarks, Castro noted that “more than anything else, I’m here […] to listen,” while insisting that “criminalizing homelessness is not the best approach. That is something that HUD has recognized very firmly.”

Despite the focus on L.A.’s significance to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, city officials appeared to place their funding hopes in the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Although former Secretary of Labor and current L.A. Supervisor Hilda Solis recently invoked the agency, the Daily News observed, its spokesman for the area covering Los Angeles threw doubt on the idea. “For homelessness, I’ve never heard that as a cause of an emergency because that’s a local social issue that would generally be handled at the city or county or state level,” he said.

A big pledge

In the interim, Los Angeles has pledged to allocate substantial sums to curbing homelessness, which has become an especially galling problem among veterans. “Members of the City Council say they are working on a $100 million plan to combat homelessness,” SCPR reported. “County supervisors this month voted to boost spending on homelessness to $100 million for the year. Earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had said he would release a blueprint to end homelessness in August.”

Garcetti’s priorities around urban issues have not been without their critics. At a recent speech in South Los Angeles, the mayor was confronted by Jefferson Park protesters, some of whom pounded on his vehicle and demanded the resignation of the current Los Angeles Police Department chief Charlie Beck. “I am disappointed that our conversation was cut short when there is so much work for us to do together to make our neighborhoods stronger and safer,” Garcetti later remarked, according to CBS Los Angeles. “I believe in our city and my commitment to our shared concerns continues stronger than ever.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CA Legislature Will Debate “Homeless Bill of Rights”

It could soon get easier to live on the streets in the Golden State. As controversy swirled around the police shooting of a homeless and mentally ill man on Skid Row in Los Angeles, legislators in California considered a new set of regulations activists said would “decriminalize” homelessness by providing a so-called “right to rest” in public.

The “right to rest” movement has picked up steam first on the West Coast, with similar bills under review in the Hawaii and Oregon legislatures.

Following suit, state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, introduced Senate Bill 608, known as the Right to Rest Act. Using broad language written by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, the bill would enshrine such actions as eating in public and occupying legally parked cars as “basic human and civil rights.”

What’s more, SB608 would authorize someone discriminated against in the use of public space to sue to enforce their newly codified rights in a civil action.

In a statement, Liu described homelessness as a “social,” not criminal, issue. “Citing homeless people for resting in a public space can lead to their rejection for jobs, education loans and housing, further denying them a pathway out of poverty,” she said.

Last month, Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic released a report on “the growing enactment and enforcement of anti-homeless laws in the Golden State.” In a forceful denunciation of California’s current homeless policies, the Clinic pushed for the kind of changes WRAP helped draft into model legislation:

“Without state-level intervention, California cities have been engaged in a race to the bottom by increasing criminalization, hoping to drive homeless people elsewhere and make them someone else’s problem. Comprehensive reform must target the full range of state codes and municipal laws that criminalize homelessness.”

A pressure cooker

SB608 comes at a time when homeless issues in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have gained a higher profile as a result of rising rents in urban cores.

As CalWatchdog.com reported, the Skid Row shooting of the man known as Africa drew sharp rebuke from community activists in downtown Los Angeles, some of whom pinned blame on the LAPD’s new Safer Cities Initiative. That effort targeted Skid Row — now at the frontier of downtown’s gentrification — with increased monitoring conducted in part by cops with beefed-up training in how to interact with the homeless and mentally unwell.

Critics noted that, although the initiative launched in 2006 by then-police chief William Bratton cut crime, it imposed an unending series of infractions on the homeless. Activists complained that more than half of Skid Row-area homeless had been arrested in the past year.

The problem seemed cyclical: one reason why Skid Row hosted one of the densest populations of homeless in America was because the surrounding areas had seen a robust influx of new renters and owners, raising housing costs.

Mainstreaming a worldview

Despite the fairly radical, social-justice approach taken by the activists who are shaping “right to rest” legislation, the agenda found an advocate in Liu, widely perceived as safely mainstream. On her official website, Liu recently touted her perfect legislative track record last year, when she went eight for eight of her bills enacted into law.

For Paul Boden, director of WRAP, activists’ appropriate ambitions reached nationwide. Himself homeless as a teen, Boden has volunteered and worked on homeless issues for 30 years.

Now he has sensed the stars are aligning for a push that extends far beyond the West Coast. Boden insisted, “From Hawaii to New York and from Maine to Texas, it’s time for this to stop.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com