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Trying to make sense of amended illegal-lodging settlement

February 9, 2011 - 5:07 pm

On Tuesday, a federal judge signed off on a modification to a settlement that prevents San Diego Police officers from ticketing anyone sleeping on public property between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Under the modified settlement, a police officer can issue a ticket in Downtown San Diego only if someone refuses an available bed. City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer pushed for the amendment and made his support of a supportive housing / one-stop service center contingent on police being able to issue tickets again.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one.

The gist of the original settlement, in place since 2007 and the result of a lawsuit brought by nine homeless plaintiffs, says that if there are no shelter beds available, it’s unconstitutional to ticket (or jail) someone for sleeping on the street. There are only about half as many shelter beds as homeless people citywide.

The new settlement, it seems, merely articulates the intent the 2007 settlement. At least that’s how it seems to me—and I’ve been covering this thing for more than four years. Not so, said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. He referred to the new settlement as a “clear strategic plan” for getting people off the street.

Has San Diego suddenly added more emergency shelter beds that folks can now be directed to? No. At a press conference today, Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long mentioned there were a total of five beds set aside each night at three shelters: Rachel’s Women’s Center, The Rescue Mission and City of Refuge. I spoke with Herb Johnson, CEO of the Rescue Mission SEO Company, and Martha Ranson, director of services for Rachel’s, about the beds. Johnson said his organization has long worked with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team—which includes police officers and mental-health clinicians—to try to get people in. “We’ll push and squeeze,” he said, “but we’re pretty much at capacity every night.” Ranson said Rachel’s has held a bed open for HOT in the past for emergency situations and has agreed to add another bed.

“The caveat is, it’s a one-night deal,” she said. “The HOT team comes back the next day and works with them to get them to move to something else—whether they need treatment… sometimes there’s board-and-care beds. They’re trying to reach these very resistant people.”

It’s true—that’s what HOT does. They build relationships with people who are mentally ill and chronically homeless and who’ve often had bad experiences at shelters and programs. They try to find the right program for that person without bringing punitive measures into the mix. Trying to use a ticket to get someone into a shelter is “ludicrous,” Ranson said. “Why would you give a homeless person a ticket? It’s not going to make them less homeless.”

The third provider, City of Refuge, isn’t mentioned on any shelter lists, their website is down and their phone line goes to an answering machine.

Goldsmith criticized former City Attorney Mike Aguirre for agreeing to the 2007 settlement. He said that Aguirre “gave away the streets” and described San Diego’s streets as “worse than Manhattan.”

(If Manhattan’s got fewer homeless people, it’s not because police can write illegal-lodging tickets; it’s because of ambitious initiatives like Common Ground’s Street to Home program.)

And, I’d argue, the settlement isn’t what’s caused an increase in the Downtown homeless population, which was just over 1,000 people according to a September count. Even under the 2007 settlement, police could write as many tickets as they wanted between 5:31 a.m. and 9:29 p.m. Instead, blame the loss of residential hotels—the housing of last resort. In the last decade some of Downtown’s most affordable residential-hotel units have been torn down or converted to fancy hotels: the Maryland Hotel, Pickwick, Hotel San Diego, Churchill, Capri and State hotels. That’s at least 1,000 units right there. Blame cuts to to rehabilitation programs for people on parole, the increase in homelessness among Iraq and Afghanistan war vets, the economy.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. jimtaco permalink
    February 17, 2011 - 1:36 pm 1:36 pm

    Ms. Davis,
    You have written about this issue so well. Thank you. This is the kind of article that you hope causes leaders to pause. Our group of housed and homeless individuals meets weekly to explore current topics affecting homeless people looks forward to your voice in downtown.

    When will housing become a useful option instead of a threat to be used to move people from one corner to another? Still without housing, still at risk of violence, still at risk of disease, but somehow a bigger threat to the city than so many other issues.

    Jim Lovell,

    • November 18, 2014 - 8:23 pm 8:23 pm

      Jim,

      I am looking for an expert on homelessness in San Diego. Do you have anybody in mind? let me know.

  2. September 10, 2011 - 1:05 pm 1:05 pm

    the settlement isn’t what’s caused an increase in the Downtown homeless population, which was just over 1,000 people according to a September count. Even under the 2007 settlement, police could write as many tickets as the.
    http://www.outdoorstoragebenche.info/

  3. September 16, 2011 - 8:47 am 8:47 am

    When will housing become a useful option instead of a threat to be used to move people from one corner to another? Still without housing, still at risk of violence, still at risk of disease, but somehow a bigger threat to the city than so many other issues.
    http://www.whitecurtainsshop.info/

  4. September 23, 2012 - 9:16 pm 9:16 pm

    I live in an R.V. I am technically homeless. Since February i have seen an intensification of the harassment of the homeless. The police are now leaving illegal lodging tickets on the windshields of R.V.s both day and night, whether someone is inside or not. They are ticketing people for living in there R.V. during the day. They are telling people to go to this lot or that lot, only to then ticket those same R.V.s for using those very same lots to park during the day. I know a young man who lives on the street who is very developmentally disabled. About two weeks ago he was arrested because he was giving himself an insulin injection on the streets, they asked him for ID and he became upset that they were harassing him and told them that he was a diabetic giving himself a shot. This same man has been woke up night after night and given illegal lodging tickets. The harassment of the homeless leads to sleeplessness, and that leads to any number of psychological, and physical ailments. I am quite frankly appalled by this new amping up of the illegal municipal laws to criminalize the homeless. It seems to me that once again a class action suit needs to be brought against the city of San Diego. We need solutions to the homeless problem, a problem that is getting worse due to the many factors listed in this article.

  5. March 7, 2013 - 3:57 pm 3:57 pm

    Oh the woes of modern civilizations. With all our resources, we still can’t pull it together? I’d call it greed. That’s the real issue.

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