April 19, 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, short-term 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 concern a misdemeanor violation to anybody residing in a homeless encampment who refuses to maneuver into out there, short-term housing after a well being analysis and at the very least two warnings.

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

Opponents fear it would criminalize homelessness.

However Pine, together with board President Warren Slocum, co-sponsor of the ordinance, mentioned the measure is the newest in a bunch of complete options — together with a road medication workforce and the conversion of lodges to short-term housing — geared toward lowering homelessness in San Mateo County.

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

Officers mentioned the county has as much as 30 unused shelter beds out there each night time, although that falls in need of the estimated 44 individuals 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 individuals on the streets considerably dipped, with extra accessing shelter services, based on County Govt Officer Mike Callagy.

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

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

However nobody could be cited if county officers don’t have a mattress out there, Callagy mentioned. He harassed that the objective is to not concern tickets or route individuals into the legal justice system however to get providers and housing to these in want.

“We consider that when supplied these choices, most individuals will avail themselves to the providers,” Callagy mentioned. 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,” mentioned David Canepa, one other county supervisor. “I don’t purchase into the narrative that we must always do nothing.”

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

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

In Los Angeles, metropolis officers have been making efforts to handle rising encampments by encouraging individuals to simply accept short-term shelter and implementing 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, spiritual leaders and the San Mateo County Personal Defender Program, which represents indigent defendants. Critics say they fear concerning the unintended penalties of such a regulation.

“Policing isn’t any method to get individuals into therapy,” mentioned William Freeman, senior council of ACLU of Northern California, decrying the “significantly flawed ordinance.”

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

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

“Our county wants to resolve this disaster by guaranteeing protected and reasonably priced housing choices which might be out there to all residents, with robust incentives and never threats of incarceration,” McCombs mentioned.

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

Supervisor Noelia Corzo mentioned her half-brother is homeless in San Mateo County, so she is aware of first-hand how complicated the concern is. She mentioned she is pleased with the county for “doing one thing totally different.”

“I don’t take this evenly,” she mentioned, “however not doing something shouldn’t be working both.”