Several years ago, when the economy was crashing, Ventura officials, in response to homeless people sleeping in their cars in random spots all over the city, decided to spearhead a program that would allow individuals who met certain qualifications to sleep in their cars on designated private property; these property owners were in partnership with the city. When that program was approved, there was an outcry from the public, saying that if the city allowed the homeless to sleep in their cars, then the streets would fill up with homeless people in their vehicles from all over the country.
Days, weeks and then months passed after implementing the program, and the worst to be feared didn’t come true. Though the number of homeless people did spike at that time, they were casualties of the economy — many of these people had nothing, not even a car. Because the program had certain criteria — not an optimal situation for the homeless who prefer not to be scrutinized — and people who slept in their cars elsewhere in the city were still subject to citations and fines, the anticipated calamity of being overrun with homeless people in their vehicles was simply overblown. The city of Ventura also had specific language in the criteria of the program that would not draw outsiders; and though the law was changed so that a person caught sleeping in his or her car would be given a warning first, and not an automatic citation, it still didn’t attract a flood of people as the public had feared.
Ventura and other cities in the county have varying laws that limit what the homeless can do, including sleeping, loitering and panhandling in public places; and various agencies throughout the county have been working together to end homelessness, specifically focusing on offering more services and permanent housing. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, however, has a whole different take on how the homeless should be treated and what they should be able to do, and it’s gaining traction in Sacramento.
Ammiano’s Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act, which would grant homeless people in California the right to rest in public spaces, including sidewalks, without the threat of arrest, among other rights, and requires that local governments provide access to bathrooms and showers, passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a 7-2 party-line vote last week. It is now on its way to the Assembly floor. The law, if passed, would supersede local ordinances and thereby take the power out of the hands of local governments and give local leaders yet another level of bureaucracy to get through when handling homeless issues.
Though Ammiano’s bill may come across as compassionate legislation for those who are at their worst in life, it negates the fact that all cities and counties have varying degrees of issues and problems with the homeless. For example, in Ventura, while the city does have an ordinance that prevents the homeless from sleeping on sidewalks, it specifically applies to Downtown, not the entire city. Clearly, this ordinance targets an area that had been suffering from vagrancy, and it created a compassionate balance by not prohibiting it everywhere. Ammiano’s bill wipes away all the work of local leaders and law enforcement to curtail homelessness, and it gives the homeless immunity for some of their actions that could and have been proven to be detrimental to others around them.
While yet another well-intentioned law, the repercussions are too numerous to support. By giving the homeless such rights, we are encouraging more unhealthy and even destructive behavior while disregarding the impacts on the businesses that are struggling to stay open and are actively working to contribute to society. We support the idea of more services, more pathways to permanent housing, but we certainly can’t stand behind any sort of law that might encourage more to become homeless. Contact your local assemblymen, Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, and Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, and urge them to vote no on the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act. It’s simply not an act of compassion to enable more to sleep on the streets and take the ability away from local governments to handle their specific homeless issues.