February 20, 2024
San Mateo County officers are hoping so as to add an uncommon tactic to their multi-pronged method to tackling the homelessness disaster: making it against the law to refuse to simply accept out there, non permanent housing.

In a unanimous vote this week, county supervisors moved ahead with the proposal — regardless of vital opposition from civil rights teams and a few homeless advocates — which might permit authorities to problem a misdemeanor violation to anybody residing in a homeless encampment who refuses to maneuver into out there, non permanent housing after a well being analysis and a minimum of two warnings.

“One of many hardest challenges we face is addressing and helping these in encampments who have a tendency to say no providers or refuse providers,” Supervisor Dave Pine stated at Tuesday’s board assembly. “The hope is it will likely be a instrument to assist transfer people into shelter.”

Opponents fear it can criminalize homelessness.

However Pine, together with board President Warren Slocum, co-sponsor of the ordinance, stated the measure is the newest in a number of complete options — together with a road drugs group and the conversion of lodges to non permanent housing — aimed toward decreasing homelessness in San Mateo County.

“Forty homeless folks die in San Mateo county yearly. … That’s simply not acceptable,” Slocum stated. This proposal “isn’t about criminalizing folks, it’s about serving to those that actually could not be capable to assist themselves. … We actually do have the capability to deal with folks and get folks the assistance they want.”

Officers stated the county has as much as 30 unused shelter beds out there each evening, although that falls in need of the estimated 44 folks residing in homeless encampments throughout unincorporated San Mateo County. Many extra encampments are positioned within the county’s 20 cities, together with Daly Metropolis and Redwood Metropolis, however this ordinance would apply solely in unincorporated areas.

After San Mateo made investments to reply to the homelessness disaster within the final two years, the variety of folks on the streets considerably dipped, with extra accessing shelter amenities, in response to County Government Officer Mike Callagy.

“We’re down now to the hard-to-reach inhabitants, the inhabitants that doesn’t need to are available in,” Callagy stated.

If the proposal reaches ultimate approval subsequent week, somebody in an encampment who refuses a suggestion for an out there mattress can have 72 hours to alter their thoughts, receiving two written warnings. After that, authorities may problem a misdemeanor quotation, which Callagy stated can be dealt with by diversion applications, like psychological well being courtroom.

However nobody can be cited if county officers don’t have a mattress out there, Callagy stated. He confused that the purpose is to not problem tickets or route folks into the felony justice system however to get providers and housing to these in want.

“We imagine that after provided these choices, most individuals will avail themselves to the providers,” Callagy stated. He hopes the citations are hardly ever issued however are used as a deterrent.

“On the finish of the day, it’s about saving lives,” stated David Canepa, one other county supervisor. “I don’t purchase into the narrative that we must always do nothing.”

County officers touting the proposal stated it was primarily based on a Houston ordinance, adopted in 2017, that made homeless encampments on public property unlawful and tried to funnel folks into non permanent housing. Whereas this system has been highlighted for its success at eradicating encampments and serving to folks get off the streets, the Houston Chronicle discovered that tickets and arrests for violating the supply — given solely after a warning and a suggestion of housing — proceed to extend.

Whereas many West Coast municipalities face authorized roadblocks to clearing encampments, San Mateo County attorneys stated the ordinance adheres to authorized precedent that protects the proper to sleep exterior when no various housing is on the market.

In Los Angeles, metropolis officers have been making efforts to deal with rising encampments by encouraging folks to simply accept non permanent shelter and imposing legal guidelines that forbid blocking sidewalks or different particular locations.

In San Mateo County, the proposed ordinance has drawn critics, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, non secular leaders and the San Mateo County Non-public Defender Program, which represents indigent defendants. Critics say they fear concerning the unintended penalties of such a legislation.

“Policing is not any option to get folks into therapy,” stated William Freeman, senior council of ACLU of Northern California, decrying the “critically flawed ordinance.”

Whereas he praised the county for its current work on homelessness, he stated that “anti-camping ordinances invite over-policing and abuse.”

Lauren P. McCombs, an Episcopal deacon and a frontrunner for Religion in Motion Bay Space, known as the criminalization of homelessness “inhumane therapy of our unhoused neighbors.”

“Our county wants to resolve this disaster by guaranteeing secure and inexpensive housing choices which can be out there to all residents, with robust incentives and never threats of incarceration,” McCombs stated.

County officers on Tuesday took into consideration some issues from the general public, amending the ordinance to incorporate a well being analysis earlier than warnings are issued and a assessment course of scheduled to launch after a couple of months.

Supervisor Noelia Corzo stated her half-brother is homeless in San Mateo County, so she is aware of first-hand how advanced the problem is. She stated she is happy with the county for “doing one thing completely different.”

“I don’t take this frivolously,” she stated, “however not doing something is just not working both.”