Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why we need more affordable housing, not more laws criminalizing the homeless residents of our city

As our city becomes more gentrified and upscale, the Pasadena City Council has felt pressure to pass more stringent anti-camping and anti-panhandling ordinances to drive homeless folk out of sight and out of the city. Jill and I are involved in efforts to make sure that funds go to affordable housing, not to laws that will only worsen the problem. We have put together this Fact Sheet to help educate the public and our elected officials so they can make wise policy decisions. Following the Housing First model, our city has reduced the homeless population from nearly 2000 to around 500. By utilizing city land, we could access HUD funding to build permanent, affordable housing for those who are homeless. This is the kind of solution that will make a real difference. 


1.            There has been a significant rise in laws criminalizing of the homeless people in California, but these laws have only worsened, not solved, the problem. UC BerkeleyLaw’s Policy Advocacy Clinic conducted an extensive study of this problem in 2015 and concluded that “criminalization harms homeless people and perpetuates poverty by restricting access to the social safety net, affordable housing, and employment opportunities.” http://www.homelesslivesmatterberkeley.org/pdf/CA_New_Vagrancy_Laws.pdf
2.            Criminalization measures do nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness  The National Center on Homelessness and Poverty provides not only reasons why criminalization doesn’t work but also offers policy solutions that have proven effective. .https://www.nlchp.org/criminalization
3.            Pasadena could lose HUD funding if it is found to have criminalized homeless people. In determining what projects are funded, HUD now examines whether applicant communities are preventing the criminalization of those experiencing homelessness by having ordinances that “ban camping in public spaces, ban loitering or begging, even limit to the time someone can spend sitting or lying down on a city sidewalk or park bench.”     http://nationalhomeless.org/hud-puts-teeth-into-effort-to-stop-criminalizing-homeless-people/
4.            The enforcement of anti-homeless laws is expensive, directing limited resources away from efforts that would effectively and humanely reduce homelesssness. . It is expensive to make arrests, go to court, to be checked out at Huntington Hospital, or more—and in the end be brought back to the streets. This cost to tax payers would be better spent on permanent supportive housing for the homeless. Research shows that it costs taxpayers approximately $40,000 a year for homeless people to stay on the street, and the cost to house a homeless person about $20,000 a year. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/mar/12/shaun-donovan/hud-secretary-says-homeless-person-costs-taxpayers/
5.            There is a direct correlation between the cuts in funding for affordable housing and the rise of homelessness and anti-camping measures. Homelessness is primarily caused by a severe shortage of affordable housing, exacerbated by a 85% reduction in federal funding for affordable housing. Despite these cuts, two states and nineteen cities have now ended homelessness for veterans. http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/comm_planning/veteran_information/mayors_challenge/ 
6.            In California today, so-called “quality-of-life” laws aim to keep homeless people out of public spaces, but do nothing to reduce homelessness or help homeless people.  “Quality-of-life” laws is a misnomer, because these laws have a devastating effect on the quality of life of homeless people, especially those who are young people. http://files.ctctcdn.com/32a36ff6001/acdee492-e1fd-4c9c-a3a5-98b796230bbc.pdf
7.            The enactment of anti-homeless laws raises significant legal questions about the constitutional rights of homeless people. In 2006 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held a Los Angeles municipal law that prohibited sitting, lying, or sleeping in public places violated homeless people’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment” since homeless people need to sleep and rest and the city did not provide them with the means to do so. This ruling called into question CA  State Municipal Code 647 (e) which states that “lodging in any building, structure, vehicle or place, whether public of private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or control of it.” Municipalities that have tried to implement this law could face law suits if they do so.
8.            Anti-camping laws violate biblical principles that protect the rights of the poor and homeless. “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge” (Proverbs 29:7).  “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you” (Leviticus 25:35-36 )  See https://www.openbible.info/topics/helping_the_homeless
9.            Anti-camping laws also violate rights found in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, of which the US was a signatory in 1948. This Declaration is not legally binding but sets a moral standard by which nations are judged and to which they are supposed to aspire. Article 25 states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” In 1949, Congress enacted the US Housing Act, which called for “a decent and suitable living environment for every American family.”  Our nation’s and our city’s aspirational goal is to provide affordable housing for everyone, not criminalize those who can’t afford housing. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_housing
10.        Education is needed to dispel harmful stereotypes and spread the truth about homeless people and panhandlers:
·   Panhandlers do not beg on the street to make vast amounts of money. A police offer in the Hope Team publicly stated that panhandlers make $200 an hour in Pasadena, a figure that was repeated several times during her presentation. This would make Pasadena the most generous city in California. In San Francisco, a study showed that panhandlers average $25 per day. The public needs to be informed that many people panhandle because they cannot find work or affordable housing, or live on the limited money they receive from SSI or from GR. Even though Pasadena is a relatively generous city, it does not provide enough food and housing for every homeless person. Most homeless people would prefer to work than panhandle. Albuquerque’s Republican mayor offered  homeless residents a chance to clean streets, and this program proved very successful. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/08/11/this-republican-mayor-has-an-incredibly-simple-idea-to-help-the-homeless-and-it-seems-to-be-working  and https://thinkprogress.org/everything-you-think-you-know-about-panhandlers-is-wrong-36b41487730d#.t8sjkvbia
·   The reason that some panhandlers beg is in order to pay their rent or keep their cars. Police from the Hope Team also stated publicly that some panhandlers have homes (and even Mercedes!), thereby implying they didn’t need to beg for money. It is true that some panhandlers live in cars, motels or shared apartments, and panhandle to make rent payments, or to cover car expenses. If they didn’t panhandle, many would end up destitute on the street. It should also be noted that 45% of homeless people work part-time and 10% of students in California’s higher education system are homeless at some point.  http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/2014/06/the-right-to-beg/  and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/09/AR2010070902357.html
·   Most homeless people would prefer to be housed in decent, affordable housing. A police officer from the Hope Team stated that 80% of homeless people are “service resistant” and implied that they prefer living on the street. It is true that many homeless people do not want to go to shelters, or be forced into treatment. Some would prefer jail to a treatment center. Many suffer from mental illness or drug issues that make them wary of authorities. But the state of Utah was able to house 90% of its chronically homeless folk using the Housing First model. This model offers chronically homeless people a permanent, affordable home with wrap-around services offered when and if they are desired. This example shows that with the right approach, the vast majority of homeless people are willing and able to be housed and many will seek treatment voluntarily when they are ready, though not when they are forced.  http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how
·   Former inmates often end up homeless, but that has not necessarily lead to an increase in crime. Thanks to Prop 57, and requirements by the Supreme Court to reduce prison crowding, California has dramatically lowered incarceration—by about 55,000 inmates since 2006—with no broad increase in crime. But recidivism rates remain high and corrections spending continues to rise. Many people released from jail end up on the street and return to prison because of a lack of support services.  Rather than send homeless former inmates back to jail (where it cost $64,000 a year to house in 2016), organizations in Pasadena that provide help to inmates who are trying to reenter society need to be supported. http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=1208  and http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/re_en and http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/article/ZZ/20111219/NEWS/111219233
11.        Pasadena police do not need “new tools,” i.e. more stringent laws, to protect the public from aggressive panhandlers and camping.  Current laws already provide ample protection to businesses and property owners:
·         If anyone leaves something (e.g. a tent or sleeping bag) on someone else’s private property, the owner can toss it in the trash or sell it as abandoned property.  If someone leaves their property on a publicly owned site, it must be handled according to certain guidelines. According to Officer Domino Scott-Jackson, police have a right to evict people from a public place using a 72 hour notice and at hour 73, their belongings can then be removed. Items must be kept in storage for 30 days. If they aren’t claimed, they can be disposed of.
·         Property owners have a right to put up a No Trespassing sign on their property. If someone goes on their property without permission to do so, they can call the police and the police on request of the owner can arrest the person for trespassing under Penal Code (PC) 602(o)(2).
·         The Trespass Enforcement Authorization letter makes it clear for the police that the person who is on another person’s property is not welcome. A business owner can file a “Trespass Enforcement Authorization Letter” with the police department that allows officers to make arrests of those individuals who are on the property afterhours. If that letter were not on file, the officers could not request the individuals to leave or make any arrests. They would have to contact the owners every single time they find people at the property to investigate whether or not the person has permission from the owner to be there.
·         A person can be arrested for illegal camping or lodging under Pasadena Municipal code(PMC) 3.24.110(8) and/or Penal Code(PC) 647(e)
·         A person in possession of a shopping cart (with an identified business) could face a violation of PMC9.62.070 and PC485.  
·         Businesses and churches that are open to the public have the right to ask folks to leave under PC602(o)(2). When the owner asks someone to leave and they refuse, they can be arrested.
·         Currently, It’s not illegal to pan-handle in Pasadena, as long as you are not blocking the driveway, impeding traffic or standing in the street (See Vehicle Code 22520.5(a) – infraction). But threatening behavior by a panhandler can be considered “accosting,” a crime according to California Penal Code Section 647.
·         If someone feels harassed by a pan handler, a citizen’s arrest can be made, showing that the pandhandler intends to do something illegal, under code PC647(c), which addresses  aggressive panhandling.

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