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Letter to Assemblymember Josh Hoover in Opposition to AB 257

Assemblymember Josh Hoover
Capitol Annex
1021 O St Suite 4540
Sacramento, CA 95814
February 3, 2023
Re: AB 257 (HOOVER) – OPPOSE

As organizations and individuals who work to end homelessness and protect the human and civil rights of all Californians, the undersigned join together to oppose AB 257 (Hoover), which seeks to further criminalize the very existence of our unhoused neighbors in public space. AB 257 would make it a crime to sit, lie, sleep, or store, use, maintain, or place personal property upon any street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way within 500 feet of a school, daycare center, park, or library. The bill would also make it a crime to resist, delay, or obstruct a police officer or public employee attempting to enforce this measure. We are gravely concerned that AB 257 would further demonize, destabilize, criminalize, and violate the human rights of unhoused Californians while failing to address the underlying driver of homelessness: the lack of affordable and accessible housing to Californians with the lowest incomes. However, we would welcome a chance to work with you and other members of the legislature to advance solutions that address the urgent housing, economic, and health needs of Californians experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Given the ubiquity of schools, parks, libraries, and daycare centers, this policy would effectively make it a crime for any unhoused Californian to exist in public space, and put police officers at the frontlines of responding to our state’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. By framing the bill as means to enhance public safety, this measure perpetuates false narratives that unhoused people are inherently dangerous. It also ignores that our unhoused neighbors include families and children who attend schools and visit parks and libraries. Further, given the fact that Black people and other people of color disproportionately live without housing or  shelter and are unjustly targeted by law enforcement, AB 257 also reinforces dangerous  racialized stereotypes that continue to reproduce systemic inequity in housing, health, employment, and legal outcomes.

Only housing ends homelessness, and at present, California is experiencing a housing affordability crisis decades in the making, with a statewide shortage of 1.2 million affordable homes. Without housing options, criminalizing basic activities of living cannot solve homelessness and may make it worse. As shown by recent research and reporting from across the state, sweeping encampments and criminalizing unhoused people with nowhere else to go is traumatic, destabilizing, and ineffective. People displaced by sweeps regularly lose access to important belongings, including identity documents, medication and healthcare resources, and irreplaceable belongings such as photographs or family heirlooms or have them seized and destroyed. Criminal penalties for sleeping create legal and financial barriers that may make it harder to access housing or services in the future. Sweeps can disrupt service provision and exacerbate well-founded mistrust of government workers and institutions. Under AB 257’s proposed enforcement zones, people would almost certainly be pushed to areas far away from critical services and resources. Finally, a police-based response to homelessness is extremely costly to local governments, diverting critical resources away from long-term solutions like affordable and supportive housing, mental health services, infrastructure, and other critical life-affirming resources.

Criminalizing unhoused people because they are homeless violates their constitutional and civil rights. Courts have found that, where people experiencing homelessness have no alternative housing or shelter, the state is prohibited from criminalizing acts such as sitting, lying, sleeping, or other life-sustaining activities. People cannot be restricted from public spaces by reason of their housing status, especially given that decades of underinvestment mean that services, shelters, and housing options do not exist in this state for everyone who needs them. The effect of such a blatantly discriminatory law will lead to further stigmatization and discrimination of people experiencing houselessness. This discrimination also compounds considering that people experiencing homelessness are also disproportionately comprised of other marginalized groups, including people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people.

AB 257 perpetuates a harmful trend of scapegoating our unhoused neighbors and wasting public resources on inequitable and ineffective enforcement-driven homelessness policy. If the legislation’s goal is, as its author states, to increase safety surrounding encampments, there are many ways to do so that do not require police or criminal penalties: ongoing sanitation services, regular trash pickup, housing navigation resources, and on-site support services at encampment sites while people wait to be connected to interim and permanent housing and services.

While we vehemently oppose AB 257, we reiterate our interest in working with the Legislature to secure additional state resources to deliver on our neighbors’ basic health and housing needs, including through budget investments in supportive and affordable housing, service provider outreach, community-based mental health and substance use treatment services to support our unhoused neighbors in connecting to the housing and care the want and need.

To discuss these concerns further, please reach out to Cynthia Castillo, [email protected].

Signed,
The following organizations:
ACLU California Action
Housing California
Western Center on Law and Poverty
Active San Gabriel Valley
All Home
Ascencia
AVALANCHE
Bet Tzedek Legal Services
Black Women for Wellness
Break the Cycle Project
Brilliant Corners
Build Affordable Faster
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
California Housing Partnership
Californians for Safety and Justice
Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice
Centro Legal de la Raza
Climate Resolve
Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco
Community Works
Corporation for Supportive Housing
CURYJ
Disability Community Resource Center (DCRC)
Disability Rights California
Downtown Women’s Center
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
Elder Law & Disability Center
Ella Baker Center
Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa
First to Serve, Inc.
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
GRACE/End Child Poverty CA
Haven Hills, Inc.
Homebase
Homeless Health Care Los Angeles
Housing Equity & Advocacy Resource Team (HEART LA)
Housing is a Human Right OC
HPP Cares (Home Preservation and Prevention Inc.)
Indivisible CA: StateStrong
Indivisible CA45
Indivisible Sacramento
Indivisible San Francisco
Indivisible Sonoma County
Initiate Justice
Inner City Law Center
LA Family Housing
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of The San Francisco Bay Area
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
Legal Aid of Marin
My Friend’s Place
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Homelessness Law Center
National Housing Law Project
NoHo Home Alliance
Norwalk Unides
No CARE Court Coalition
PICO California
Project Amiga
Public Advocates
Residents United Network Los Angeles
Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee
Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness
Safe Place for Youth
San Bernardino Free Them All
Silicon Valley De-Bug
SLO Legal Assistance Foundation
South County Homelessness Task Force
Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)
Streets for All
The Center in Hollywood
The Midnight Mission
The People Concern
The People’s Resource Center
The Public Interest Law Project
The RowLA – The Church Without Walls – Skid Row
The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
Transitions Clinic Network
TRUST South LA
Union Station Homeless Services
United Way of Greater Los Angeles
University of Southern California
Venice Community Housing
Voices for Progress
Western Regional Advocacy Project
YIMBY Action
The following individual community members:
Paula Lomazzi
Casey Thompson
Shelly Williams
Sarah Whipple
Ben Baczkowski
Kevin Green
Christina Gonzalez
Zerita Jones
Haley Feng
Joyce E Roberts
Damian J. Hernandez
Irma Ramos
Kyle Robert Kitson
Sydney Smanpongse
Elizabeth Flores
Olivia Barber
Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez
Ariège Besson
Rachael L Parker-Chavez
Nelowfar ahmadi
In YANG
Gloria Magallanes
Isaac Bushnell
Andrea Martinez
Kiara Tarazon-Molina
Melissa Ceja
NOMPUMELELO FAITH NYANDU
Jacqueline Olivares
Katayun Salehi
Abbi Samuels
Roya Pakzad
Amy Ithurburn
Rebekah Turnbaugh

Groups sue to block Newsom’s CARE Courts program for severe mental illness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Civil rights groups are challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new court program for people with severe mental illness.

Three groups — Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and The Public Interest Law Project — filed a petition to the California Supreme Court on Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the CARE Courts program, which Newsom designed, championed, and signed into law last year.

JOINT STATEMENT OF OPPOSITION TO SB 31 (JONES)

Thursday, January 5, 2023

As organizations and individuals who work to end homelessness and protect the human and civil rights of all Californians, the undersigned join together to oppose SB 31 (Jones), which seeks to further criminalize the very existence of our unhoused neighbors in public space. SB 31 would make it a crime to sit, lie, sleep, or store, use, maintain, or place personal property upon any street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way within 1000 feet of a so-called “sensitive area”, including schools, daycare centers, parks, or libraries. We are gravely concerned that SB 31 would further demonize, destabilize, criminalize, and violate the human rights of unhoused Californians while failing to address the underlying driver of homelessness: the lack of affordable and accessible housing to Californians with the lowest incomes. However, we would welcome a chance to work with the bill’s co-authors and other members of the legislature to advance solutions that address the urgent housing, economic, and health needs of Californians experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. 

 

Given the ubiquity of schools, parks, libraries, and daycare centers, this policy would effectively make it a crime for any unhoused Californian to exist in public space, and put police officers at the frontlines of responding to our state’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. By framing the bill as means to protect children and families, this measure perpetuates false narratives that unhoused people are inherently dangerous. It also ignores that our unhoused neighbors include families and children who attend schools and visit parks and libraries. Further, given the fact that Black people and other people of color disproportionately live without housing or shelter and are unjustly targeted by law enforcement, SB 31 also reinforces dangerous racialized stereotypes that continue to reproduce systemic inequity in housing, health, employment, and legal outcomes.    

 

Only housing ends homelessness, and at present, California is experiencing a housing affordability crisis decades in the making, with a statewide shortage of 1.2 million affordable homes. Without housing options, criminalizing basic activities of living cannot solve homelessness and may make it worse. As shown by recent research and reporting from across the state, sweeping encampments and criminalizing unhoused people with nowhere else to go is traumatic, destabilizing, and ineffective. People displaced by sweeps regularly lose access to important belongings, including identity documents, medication and healthcare resources, and irreplaceable belongings such as photographs or family heirlooms or have them seized and destroyed. Penalties for sleeping create legal and financial barriers that may make it harder to access housing or services in the future. Sweeps can disrupt service provision and exacerbate well-founded mistrust of government workers and institutions. Under SB 31’s proposed enforcement zones, people would almost certainly be pushed to areas far away from critical services and resources. Finally, a police-based response to homelessness is extremely costly to local governments, diverting critical resources away from long-term solutions like affordable and supportive housing, mental health services, infrastructure, and other critical life-affirming resources. 

Criminalizing unhoused people because they are homeless violates their constitutional and civil rights. Courts have found that, where people experiencing homelessness have no alternative housing or shelter, the state is prohibited from criminalizing acts such as sitting, lying, sleeping, or other life-sustaining activities. People cannot be restricted from public spaces by reason of their housing status, especially given that decades of underinvestment mean that services, shelters, and housing options do not exist in this state for everyone who needs them. The effect of such a blatantly discriminatory law will lead to further stigmatization and discrimination of people experiencing houselessness.  

SB 31 perpetuates a harmful trend of scapegoating our unhoused neighbors and wasting public resources on inequitable and ineffective enforcement-driven homelessness policy. If the legislation’s goal is, as its authors claim, to increase safety for families and children as well as people living in encampments, there are many ways to do so that do not require police or criminal penalties: ongoing sanitation services, regular trash pickup, housing navigation resources, and on-site support services at encampment sites while people wait to be connected to interim and permanent housing and services. 

While we vehemently oppose SB 31, we reiterate our interest in working with the Legislature to secure additional state resources to deliver on our neighbors’ basic health and housing needs, including through budget investments in supportive and affordable housing, service provider outreach, community-based mental health and substance use treatment services to support our unhoused neighbors in connecting to the housing and care they want and need. 

 

Signed, 

 

The following organizations: 

ACLU California Action 

Housing California 

Western Center on Law and Poverty 

Abundant Housing LA 

Active San Gabriel Valley

All Home

Ascencia 

AVALANCHE

Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Black Women for Wellness

Brilliant Corners 

Build Affordable Faster 

California Coalition for Women Prisoners 

California Housing Partnership

Californians for Safety and Justice 

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Centro Legal de la Raza 

Climate Resolve 

Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco 

Community Works

Corporation for Supportive Housing 

CURYJ

Disability Community Resource Center (DCRC) 

Disability Rights California 

Downtown Women’s Center 

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice 

Elder Law & Disability Center 

Ella Baker Center 

Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa

First to Serve, Inc. 

Friends Committee on Legislation of California

GRACE/End Child Poverty CA 

Haven Hills, Inc. 

Homebase

Homeless Health Care Los Angeles 

Housing Equity & Advocacy Resource Team (HEART LA)

HPP Cares (Home Preservation and Prevention Inc.)

Indivisible CA: StateStrong

Indivisible CA45

Indivisible Sacramento

Indivisible San Francisco

Indivisible Sonoma County

Initiate Justice

Inner City Law Center 

LA Family Housing 

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of The San Francisco Bay Area

Law Foundation of Silicon Valley 

Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability

My Friend’s Place

National Alliance to End Homelessness

National Homelessness Law Center

National Housing Law Project

NoHo Home Alliance

Norwalk Unides

PICO California

Public Advocates

Residents United Network Los Angeles

Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee

Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness

Safe Place for Youth

San Bernardino Free Them All 

Silicon Valley De-Bug

SLO Legal Assistance Foundation

South County Homelessness Task Force 

Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)

Streets for All

The Center in Hollywood

The Midnight Mission

The People Concern

The People’s Resource Center 

The RowLA – The Church Without Walls – Skid Row 

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Transitions Clinic Network

TRUST South LA

Union Station Homeless Services

United Way of Greater Los Angeles

University of Southern California

Venice Community Housing

Voices for Progress

Western Regional Advocacy Project

YIMBY Action

 

The following individual community members: 

Paula Lomazzi

Casey Thompson

Shelly Williams

Sarah Whipple

Ben Baczkowski

Kevin Green

Christina Gonzalez

Zerita Jones

Haley Feng

Joyce E Roberts

Damian J. Hernandez

Irma Ramos

Kyle Robert Kitson

Sydney Smanpongse

Elizabeth Flores

Olivia Barber

Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez

Ariège Besson

Rachael L Parker-Chavez

Nelowfar ahmadi

In YANG

Gloria Magallanes

Isaac Bushnell

Andrea Martinez

To discuss these concerns further, please reach out to Mari Castaldi, [email protected].

OPINION: Cruelty will not solve the ‘Homelessness Problem’ in LA

Western Center senior attorney, Lorraine Lopez, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Journal explaining why cruelty and blame toward people experiencing homelessness won’t solve the problem, and why California must look beyond traditional development to other models to make up for the severe shortfall of affordable housing.

“Now it’s time to look beyond traditional development — the foundation of which stems from white supremacist structures, to other housing models that make up for the severe shortfall of affordable housing.”

Read More

 

Arresting people who are homeless will make a bad problem worse

“It’s good that more people are paying attention. But the sudden increase in interest means there isn’t enough nuanced conversation about the decades that got us here, or the proven solutions that are most likely to work.”

https://calmatters.org/commentary/arresting-homeless-people-will-make-a-bad-problem-worse/

The City of San Clemente backed away from an inhumane homeless ordinance, but it’s the tip of the iceberg in California

Last month, after pressure from a case filed by Western Center and our partners, Emergency Shelter Coalition v. City of San Clemente, San Clemente passed an emergency repeal of a deeply inhumane ordinance targeting people experiencing homelessness. The ordinance would have forced anyone without a place to sleep to camp at a storage lot next to a waste treatment plant. The City made the repeal permanent this week.

The ordinance was the latest in a series passed by San Clemente targeting the City’s growing homeless population. Sadly, the City’s actions reflect an approach to homelessness that is common in California, aimed at pushing the problem out of public view rather than addressing it in a meaningful way.

In 2018, San Clemente enacted an ordinance similar to those adopted by many California cities, which criminalized camping by those experiencing homelessness. The City was forced to amend the law in response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Martin v. Boise, which said it is unconstitutional to punish someone for sleeping outdoors on public land when alternative shelter is unavailable.

But the City’s amendment did not mark a change in attitude. After Martin, San Clemente still clung to its same shortsighted approach to homelessness, and remained focused on citing and arresting people for living on the street, sleeping in public, and other unavoidable offenses. The ordinance challenged in our Emergency Shelter Coalition case was a product of that approach.

At the City Council meeting where San Clemente adopted the ordinance, Emergency Shelter Coalition, the plaintiff in the case, offered the City an alternative: a financial donation to fund an indoor homeless shelter, and land for a location. San Clemente opted instead to force its homeless population to camp at the site near the waste treatment plant, which the City previously rejected as the location for an animal shelter due to safety concerns. This choice shows that the City wasn’t interested in providing adequate shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

The City’s decision to repeal the ordinance came only after sustained pressure from our case — a victory against the criminalization of homelessness. But the notion that criminal enforcement is a solution to homelessness continues to attract politicians and administrators peddling quick fixes.

Exhibit A: a proposed 2020 state ballot initiative by former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, which takes the debunked idea that California can arrest its way out of a homeless crisis to disturbing extremes. The initiative requires law enforcement officers to set aside other priorities to make mandatory arrests for certain offenses, mostly minor nuisance violations. It then requires judges to impose the maximum sentence on anyone found to have a mental health or drug addiction issue. Judges would also be authorized to order that sentences be served in locked mental health and drug treatment facilities.

If enacted, the initiative will result in the mass institutionalization of people deemed mentally unwell at the discretion of police and judges.

Gatto claims the initiative will connect people to financial and housing assistance, but this is only window dressing – the measure provides no funding for housing or homeless services. The only financial assistance it refers to is General Relief, an existing program that already provides far less aid than necessary to obtain housing and meet basic needs. In Los Angeles County, for example, the maximum General Relief payment is $221.00 per month.

Such superficial gestures should not distract from what the initiative really is: a destructive non-solution that will trample the rights of people with mental health disabilities. It is an example of the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to homelessness at its worst.

Moreover, this approach also perpetuates wider systemic inequities, both historic and current. In a country and state that continues to struggle with racialized policing practices, it makes no sense to impose mandatory arrests and maximum sentences on an already marginalized population that is disproportionately Black.

Criminalizing homelessness does nothing to solve a long-term crisis resulting from entrenched inequities in housing access, economic opportunity, the criminal justice system, and medical and mental health services. But it does allow cities to push the visual evidence of the issue temporarily out of sight. Cities too often assert that some people experiencing homelessness will eventually move to other cities when faced with the constant threat of arrest, which allows them to treat homelessness as someone else’s problem.

Harmful policies like San Clemente’s now-repealed ordinance and Gatto’s proposed ballot measure move the state backwards when we should be investing in real solutions, like increased funding for deeply affordable housing and significant increases in General Relief grants. Western Center will continue to advocate for sustainable state and local policies that actually work, and we will fight those seeking to expand the criminalization of homelessness in court.