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Homeless crackdown gains momentum in California as US Supreme Court test looms

Published 03/02/2024, 06:19 AM
Updated 03/02/2024, 05:02 PM
© Reuters. Homeless people move their belongings to the side of a freeway on land under state jurisdiction, after being evicted from a downtown location along side a city street, in San Diego, California, U.S., February 26, 2024.  REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Daniel Trotta

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Seven months into a crackdown by the city of San Diego on homeless encampments, many of the tents that once lined downtown sidewalks are gone.

Now two California state senators - a Republican and a Democrat - have joined forces to propose a statewide version of San Diego's ordinance, which allows police to roust many homeless people even when shelter is unavailable.

But advocates for homeless people said the enforcement strategy has merely chased the homeless onto riverbanks and other unseen places, as the number of shelter beds still fails to meet demand.

The debate reflects growing urgency, as polls show homelessness and affordable housing as two of the most important issues to California voters. The state has spent more than $20 billion on housing and homelessness programs since the 2018-19 fiscal year but still has more than 180,000 homeless people.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to weigh in. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments on April 22 in a case from Oregon that may determine the legality of enforcing anti-camping laws and other regulations affecting homeless people when there is nowhere for them to go.

The justices will hear an appeal by the city of Grants Pass in southern Oregon of a lower court's ruling that found that local ordinances that outlawed camping on sidewalks, streets, parks or other public places violate the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

SHOPPING CARTS AND DUFFLE BAGS

Homeless people still congregate in downtown San Diego, pushing their possessions in shopping carts or sitting on duffle bags, awaiting city services such as referrals for shelter, food or clothing, or mental health and substance abuse treatment. The city has about 6,500 homeless people, according to a census conducted a year ago. About half found some kind of roof, but that still left 3,285 in the street.

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell said a game of Whac-A-Mole has emerged, with politicians who failed to provide affordable housing now resorting to police force.

"It hasn't solved homelessness, it's just scattered homelessness," said McConnell, a former vice chair of the board of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, an organization that administers public funding for shelters and other services.

McConnell sold his coin shop business in 2018 to dedicate his time to the issue.

San Diego in June 2023 passed the Unsafe Camping Ordinance with a 5-4 vote on a city council made up entirely of Democrats, allowing police to enforce camping laws at transit hubs, parks or within two blocks of a school or shelter, regardless of whether beds are available.

It is an example of bipartisan agreement to prioritize enforcement, despite a consensus among government officials and advocates that a better solution is more affordable housing.

Democrats including California Governor Gavin Newsom had asked the conservative-majority Supreme Court to take up the Oregon case. In a brief, Newsom said rulings by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against measures in Grants Pass and Boise, Idaho, have "paralyzed" efforts to address unsafe and unsanitary encampments.

'TWO LEFT SHOES'

In the meantime, San Diego is enforcing its law. Other municipalities have faced civil lawsuits challenging camping bans by plaintiffs, citing the Grants Pass and Boise rulings.

A San Diego homeless man who identified himself as Brother Shine said that as a result of the city's enforcement efforts he is constantly being asked to move along, even if just around the corner.

"That's as wrong as two left shoes. It doesn't make a lick of sense to Brother Shine," he said shortly after an encounter with two uniformed police officers.

A monthly survey by a business alliance shows the number of homeless people in downtown San Diego peaked at 2,104 in May 2023, before the law took effect on July 31. By December the number had fallen to 846, though it picked up to 1,019 in January, according to the survey.

Advocate McConnell said many people are simply pushed outside the boundaries of where the survey is taken.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, a Democrat, acknowledged that some homeless people are just relocating, but said the city was putting more in contact with services.

The city funds 1,856 shelter beds, nearly double the number when he took office in 2021, Gloria said. In addition, last year the city opened 533 tents for singles or couples at two safe sleeping sites, plus 233 safe parking places where people can sleep in their cars, according to the mayor's office.

"I'm an evangelist for housing," Gloria told Reuters, saying his goal was to add another 1,000 shelter beds in 2024 and further streamline bureaucracy to expedite the construction of permanent housing.

Republican state Senator Brian Jones introduced the homelessness bill, which was co-authored by Democrat Catherine Blakespear.

Jones called the proposal one step toward a solution.

"We want to get people off the streets and into permanent housing," Jones said.

© Reuters. Homeless man Clarence Shine points to an eviction noticed placed on his tent by the city of San Diego a day earlier, forcing him to move out of his current location and onto state land along the freeway in downtown San Diego, California, U.S., February 26, 2024.  REUTERS/Mike Blake

Blakespear said dealing with homelessness should be treated as an emergency while long-term solutions are pursued.

"I want to be able to walk on the sidewalk," Blakespear said. "I live here in Sacramento, about seven blocks from the Capitol, and I don't always feel comfortable walking home."

Latest comments

Interesting?
What the magaloons can't possibly grasp, is that by not giving handouts to trump and his fellow billionaires, there can be some money left to making your neighbourhoods, kids' schools and communities safer, by helping the homeless off the streets by providing mental healthcare, getting them off substance abuse , and providing jobs training.
The vast majority of the top rich billionaires are Democrats. It's OK. Just keep drinking the kool-aid the media feeds you if it makes you think you're happy.
lance.. you missed my point completely...
lance losing again, and trying to change the subject.. the only Kool aid is the crazy drivel we hear from Donald Trump at his hitler like rallies, that you believe..... we do what to thank the Republicans, for freeing up so much money for us, so much money that can use against them, and their crazy crapper EXPresident Donald Trump.
If they get rid of the homeless and illegals the Democrats will have no voters there.
how little you know..
more right wing conspiracy from donkey boy.
Send the communist invasion back to Venezuela and Cuba.  There will be plenty of room for our own poor, then.
sam still spreading the fear of the other, ....as if the Maga Republicans and Donald Trump have any intentions of helping the poor...
Homeless people have rights too. We take in millions of immigrants but can’t take care of our own people. Something is wrong with this picture. Take care of our own people first before immigrants.
damn right you are.
America can do both, unfortunately, Kenneth can't walk and chew gum at the same time and assumes America can't either.
solving the problem is easy ! homeless people should just claim to be migrants .
sweeping the undesirables under the carpet to make the town look good.. how about taking back the 1 trillion dollars of wealth that was transferred from ordinary Americans, under trump, to his fellow billionaires, and spending it on elevating the standard of living for most...
Most of the homeless are immigrants that spent their vote-4-Biden check
lol the magaloons prefer to give handouts and donations to trump and his billionaire buddies...
that 2017 Trump tax cut, according to financial experts, is responsible for 1trillion dollars a year being added to the debit, and setting the stage for the present inflation cycle.
Homeless Crackdown? These folks are Expert Nomads. The out of site, out of mind enforcement will not work. They will set up camp somewhere else. There is no "End Game" for the poor. "Homeless Lives Matter"? When these Sanctuary Cities run our of Money and Tire of the "New Comers", a new generation of Homeless is on the Horizon. Anyway, Love to All, Charles.
If we can give tens of $Billions to multi-$Billion companies to build new infrastructure that they can afford to do themselves (example chip manufacturers) if they hadn't spent tens of $Billions to buy  back their own stock and give huge bonuses to their execs, we can give a few billions to build adequate shelter.  If we limit the ability of the haves from taking easy money out of the pie more would be left for the have-nots.
 Explain..In business I was known for ethics...That's why I put my name loud and proud. ran the oldest futures cleaning firm and had no customer complaints, not one  only firm that can claim that...
Problem is they'll set up shop anywhere else in the world with the lowest costs if not richly incentivized in the U.S.
Problem is they'll set up shop anywhere else in the world with the lowest costs if not richly incentivized in the U.S.
public spaces were never designed to be someone's free outdoor home. they were designed for everyone daily stroll, not for one group to dominate. today, public spaces means do not take your family there.
While we're waiting for a perfect solution show some humanity and give the homeless some decent space with access to water and food and ability for protection from the elements. Even the somewhat  barbaric and demeaning removal of the native Americans to reservations allowed them some space and ability to have somewhat of a home. I don't have all the answers but one is to quit doling out corporate welfare and have them pay their fair share out of their $Billions in profits they reap from the infrastructure of this great nation built off the backs of the common laborers
The homeless probably don't feel safe with you walking through the only decent place of shelter they have either.
the homeless do not feel safe among the homeless.
Yup, nothing gets done until it's Oh sheet
Between the housing shortage that already existed, and the major influx of illegal migrants allowed to cross the border, there will never be enough places to house all of these homeless individuals. (Plus the fact that there are always a certain number of them that prefer homelessness.)
Never. There is an easy nihilism among maga that is completely at odds with the historical can-do optimism of the USA.
Brad Halfbright can't deliver a message w/o thinking of President Trump.
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