Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Homeless "Outlaws" Get Representation from ACLU

Although I am not sure saying the city treats them like outlaws is the best way to put it, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California is suing the City of Santa Barbara for the following reason:

On April 1, more than 100 homeless people, including many with physical and/or mental disabilities, will be compelled to leave safe and secure shelter beds at Santa Barbara’s Casa Esperanza emergency shelter because the city permits the shelter to operate only from December through March. These chronically homeless individuals -- who have mental or physical disabilities and have been homeless repeatedly or for an extended period of time -- will have no alternative to sleeping on the streets or in other public places, and will be at serious risk for being cited for illegal activity by police.

According to the ACLU, 11 homeless people have died on the streets of Santa Barbara this year. A similar suit was conducted against Laguna Beach in Orange County. That council responded by repealing their anti-sleeping ordinance this last week. One of the key points is that when you are cited by the police, you can have a hard time renewing a driver's license or receive benefits. Accrued citations could also mean jail.

It is frustrating that this becomes an issue every couple of years and it seems to coincide with the economy. What's sad about it is that we can't seem to come up with a permanent solution to the problem. I don't like tripping over homeless people when I am walking downtown as much as the next person...but what do you do? Christianity talks about caring for the "least of us" -- as does almost every religion -- yet I am sure many of my church fearing readers will be ready to stomp all over the "outlaws". Let's see if we can have a decent discussion about this....without making everyone wrong.

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Blogger Don McDermott said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/07/2009 6:41 AM  
Anonymous patrick said...

(For the record, the news article that I read said that it was Laguna Beach, not Laguna Niguel, that was the target of a similar suit. Anyone from Laguna Beach would be offended by being confused with Laguna Niguel.)

This homeless issue is a tough one, but I don't see how it is a civil rights issue that people be provided housing by local governments. Local governments have shoestring budgets that are already stretched thin. Homelessness is more of a statewide or national problem and we should look more towards the state or federal government for solutions. Most of the homeless in SB are transitory and came from somewhere else and SB shouldn't be saddled with the cost of providing them shelter. I think the problem really mushroomed when Reagan cut federal spending on this issue -- in effect passing the buck to compassionate local agencies.

3/07/2009 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Take it to the supreme court said...

Mower is lying about the "necessity defense". He needs to be called on this and get this settled once and for all at the highest court level in the state so that all communities are required to provide the exact same level of services.

The city needs to take back the last salary raise and devote that money to fighting this case to the highest court so it findings apply to ALL jurisdictions in California.

Meanwhile, send all the vagrants to camp out on Mower's front lawn.

3/07/2009 11:49 AM  
Anonymous Liam said...

If the homeless are to be kicked out of their shelter, I suppose they will be without shelter and possibly on the streets. Interestingly, the ACLU of Southern California won an important case two years ago that stated that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the government from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public property. The fact that the City of Santa Barbara continues to have an anti-sleeping ordinance seems to be contradictory to the courts previous opinion so it seems like the ACLU will likely win and force Santa Barbara to remove that ordinance.

3/07/2009 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Liam said...

Oh, also, on a related note, readers might be interested in this documentary film, titled Love and Fearlessness by filmmakers David Shebib and Andrew Ainsley which shows activists' campaigns regarding the right to sleep in Victoria, Canada. There is also some commentary on this film over on MetaFilter.

On possibly solution discussed is the idea of tent cities. An example is the River Haven community nearby in Ventura. Maybe something like this could be supported by Santa Barbara.

3/07/2009 12:34 PM  
Blogger Don McDermott said...

Sorry, my previous post was intended for the SDLG post entitled Jerry Roberts Fundraising Letter.

Regarding this SDLG post; On February 24th the city adopted a package with 12 strategies to address community issues related to homelessnes. I do not know if this was the "10 year plan to end homelessness" but from what I recall about the hearing it had a lot to do with addressing a wide range of issues from homeless services as well as community complaints. It was clear that it will probably always be a work in progress with follow up discussions.

Clearly some community's do not get involved. Does anyone recall that back in the early 90's a businessman from a beach town south of here gave homeless who arrived in his community a free bus ticket to Santa Barbara?

My point in recalling this is to point out that some community's export their problems. Santa Barbara at least tries to solve them. The businessman probably thought he was doing the right thing and perhaps considered his actions generous or compassionate. When this city/community attempts to provide service it can be politically difficult but those that export their problems get a free to speak.

I am not usually bothered by the homeless but then my experience may not be that of those in the downtown or shelter districts. I do often have the opinion that many much more privileged in the community annoy me much more than any of the homeless I do encounter. So sometimes I wonder why so much focus on the homeless as the problem.

Again I try to keep in mind that at least the City of Santa Barbara attempts to solves some of the problems and so it is also at the forefront of criticism.

3/07/2009 12:53 PM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

Don -- sorry, I didn't catch the post title when I approved...I'll erase theis one.

Patrick -- you are right! My mistake and I just edited.

3/07/2009 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Stop UCI now said...

The irony here is it was a civil rights issue when they closed down all the institutions and put these people out on the streets. And now it is again a civil rights issue that they remain on the streets. Go figure.

Bring back the institutions. They were far more human than the choices these people face now. If civil rights demand individual housing for this group, why not for all? Where does it end.

There is a massive social safety net out there already costing us millions of dollars in both tax money and charitable donations. Maybe we need to discover the only people being helped are those employed by the homeless industry, including ACLU lawyers who like trying cases in Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach.

But best solution is a court ordered statewide standard of care so we don't create these individual magnet communities like Santa Barbara and become everyone else's dumping grounds.

Let the lawsuit go forward so a single state wide recommendation can be established by the courts.

But if all ACLU is doing is bullying communities with these lawsuits ala ACORN style legal tactics ( a well known UC Irvine public law school speciality) then it is time to stand up to that selective thuggery. Then they too become those discriminating against certain communities, but not others.

3/07/2009 3:55 PM  
Anonymous What does our city really owe? said...

Again, the distinction needs to be made between the developmentally frail and intractably impaired and those who are professional street people because it is their choice and their sense of entitlement to remain so at everyone else's expense.

One is a part of any society's duty and obligation and one has to wonder with all the money spent on this population, there still remains a problem.

But no one owes the professional vagrant class anything other than pointing the direction out of town. You can live well on your SSI and SS checks in a lot of places in this state. But you can not demand that you get to live in Santa Barbara on that same amount of money. And tell us to like it too.

This is similar to the housing bailout. Some may be genuine people to help, but no one wants to help those who were reckless and intentional in their housing exploitations.

Time to make sure in both these situations, help we are already paying for is going to those most in need. And time to send a very different message to those who come here to exploit this town and its do-gooders.

This will be a hot button issue this coming election because Helene stands for attracting even more homeless to our town with no limits. Iya is, as always, an unknown on this and any other issue. And Steve Cushman, had better offer a better alternative than what we are doing now.

3/07/2009 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Hard times all around said...

Why does everyone keep saying the homeless issue is "tough". Then wring their hands, do nothing and sit back and let misguided homeless activists set the agenda totally in their own favor?

It is not tough. And everyone needs to stop saying this. Divide up the types of homeless and make sure the vast amounts of money already spent is targeted for maximum effect.

And then put in vagrancy laws that are as bullet proof as possible and enforce and defend them. There has to be a state wide standard on this issue so the problem does not get pushed around the state and those who choose a vagrant lifestyle for whom no society has an obligation to support get a new message from California: No vacancy.

And message to those ill-guided social activists: learn the difference between these two groups before you mouth off and criticize those who have to pay for the solutions. We know the difference, and it is time for you to learn the difference too.

3/07/2009 4:12 PM  
Anonymous oppo-research said...

how can Das run for Assembly now that everyone knows he hates homeless people?

3/07/2009 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Squanto McButterpants said...

A lawsuit? Are they kidding? Santa Barbara is one of the most homeless-friendly cities I've ever seen. We should be sending them back where they came from, not spending yet more tax dollars on "solving" the problems other communities have exported to us.

3/07/2009 6:20 PM  
Blogger Bill Carson said...

Maybe Glen Mower can provide his home address so that we can invite the homeless to sleep on his front lawn. I'm sure he won't mind.

3/07/2009 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Just makin up Chit said...

City Really Own needs to state one, just one, example of how Helene Schneider supposedly "stands for attracting even more homeless to our town with no limits".

Schneider is a leader in planning and supporting the 10-Year Plan to end homelessness, which saves tremendous social service and local government funds by getting most chronic and pathetic homeless people get off the street and out of the hospitals and jails and into some addiction treatment program and shelter instead, all of which cost a huge less amount of public money than the criminal justice system.

Iya Falcone knows and understands all that, but will not mention it because that would inflame her right-wing political base, which is shrinking all the time.

I suppose some commenters here would prefer that Helene Schneider simply ignore this growing social problem and then just wave her hands in the air when ACLU et al. prevail on these lawsuits.

3/07/2009 6:36 PM  
Blogger No said...

"I don't like tripping over homeless people when I am walking downtown as much as the next person..."

Get your sinuses checked. If you can't smell them long before tripping over them there's something wrong with your nose.

3/07/2009 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Lower East said...

I agree with the comments above that say the city needs to fight this lawsuit AND get a definitive ruling from the courts on what the cities' standards of care need to be. In view of that need, the ACLU's suit is a good one.

In the meantime, the city should not evict the sick, etc. from the shelter but should work to establish other alternatives rather than having a year-round center for all homeless at the lower east side. There should be an alternative tent city (perhaps on that park below city college - or perhaps a segment of Alameda Park or Bohnett Park) and anyone found sleeping (and by necessity crapping) in public space, including the beaches, at night (anytime for the crapping/urinating) should be cited.

I don't think it is fair - to the businesses and the residents - that all the homeless facilities should be located/expanded on the lower east side.

But what's important is to get a state-wide standard and, preferably, once this economic crunch is over, state help. (For those of us struggling to survive (not the Glen Mowrers, he with his AMPLE county pension and his wife with her large county check as Treasurer-Tax-Collector) to have more public money go to others is very hard to swallow.)

3/08/2009 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Sage Warrior said...

Helene is on record claiming we have to take care of the hordes of vagrants who choose to come here. She is not on record saying they are not welcome here.

No one is on record saying we do not have a society obligation for the truly impaired. But the 10 year task force only deals with a small number of impaired homeless. Helene is shameless if she thinks she can hoodwink voters into thinking she has worked on the homeless problem when this group totally ignores the vast armies of vagrants who flock to this town. Don't let her get away with this sham.

The 10 year "plan" does NOT deal at all with the vast majority of the professional street people groups which make out city such a mess. Those who come here by choice to take advantage of our town and its lax city council leadership on this issue.

Helene has never spoken for limits on this voluntary group of homeless by choice, but she always saying we are not doing enough. Well Helene, we have done too much and the rest of the state knows that and sends their problems to us What do you have to say about that? And stop playing the guilt card. And stop claiming you are doing something you are not.

Helene;s 10 year task force has shown no accomplishments other than a bunch of meetings. This has been a squandered effort. The clock is ticking and the 10 years is dripping through the hourglass and more money is wasted hand wringing and the vagrant problems downtown have only gotten worse.

Helene has shown no leadership on this issue, but just dithered while the problems for Santa Barbara get worse. Iya will get the votes on this issue unless Cushman can find something legal and logical to offer himself.

There remain other candidates to come forth. It is still early. Issues are crystalizing. There will be change in Santa Barbara. You can count on this.

3/08/2009 10:21 AM  
Blogger Don McDermott said...

O.K. I can sum up the consensus so far. The problem is the homeless, City of X, the ACLU, ACORN, Glen Mower, Helene Schneider, Das, "misguided homeless activists" and "those who choose a vagrants lifestyle," I guess Reagan's closure of the institutions should be "spinned" as a liberation. We should just ship them all back to Africa or where ever it is they came from.

3/08/2009 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Ten Year Plan-acea? said...

"just making"---are you also on the negative-anonymous-commenter payroll for one of Iya's opponents? Talk about making stuff up! By the way, you seem to be the one who has not read the Ten Year Plan if you truly believe it "saves tremendous social service and local government funds" . while the plan is NO ONE's fault [it was a mandate from the Bush Administration] it certainly cannot be touted by any candidate as some beacon of success. with any degree of accuracy, anyway. It was a federal mandate handed to the County and its dictates pretty much carved in stone.

3/08/2009 3:58 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

Speaking of spin, how about blaming Reagan for the Supreme Court decisions that made our homeless problem what it is today?

3/08/2009 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Stop blaming Reagan -find solutions now! said...

It was civil rights activists who turned the homeless loose and closed down the institutions that were housing them safely.

It happened on Reagan's watch but it was definitely not his choice. The court demanded this one. And then they walked away.

Re-open the institutions. This should have been done years ago. What a waste of money if those truly impaired are still stuck on the streets.

And it was truly a waste of good will to give the professional street people a sense of entitlement to get in our faces, demand our money and ruin our communities.

3/08/2009 8:00 PM  
Anonymous The Progressive Big Top Circus Act said...

McDermott, if you are looking for a common label for your cast of characters who have exacerbated the homeless problems in this town, look no further than the "progressive" label. It is a big tent in this town. There is plenty of room for all of them to fit into it.

Used to be called "liberals" but liberals understood they had to pay for their causes. Progressives moved beyond personal responsibility and moved well into entitlement; as long as someone else is paying.

It *pays* to know the difference. And boy, does it not.

3/08/2009 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Love Law Enforcement But... said...

I don't see Travis thinking these are "unions" even though they clearly are. He doesn't see them like he sees SEIU -- which is shameful as the SBPOA throws their weight around perhaps more so than any other union. Because it is about law enforcement, it's a different story...

3/08/2009 9:47 PM  
Blogger Don McDermott said...

I think we need professional, cost-effective, educated and science based government programs. No government program will be without problems but the current conservative to moderate policies to;

1.) throw the bums out on the street
2.) have a faith-based organizations take care of them-or not- whatever the congregation chooses.
3.) now that they're on the street send them back to where they came from.

This does not work and leaves local municipalities in a position to solve problems it cannot do and is not intended to do. It does however create a bit of advantageous political fodder. I do resent politcal operatives, from rural Carpinteria for instance, using this and other issues to muddy the political waters in the city I live in. I suspect that is what many comments posted here are about.

Regardless of the Reagan's direct responsibility it is clear that conservative to moderate values set the stage for quiet a bit of anti-government and emotion based program deconstruction no matter how effective or cost effective. Reagan used words to stir emotions for conservative agendas that are resulting with leaving people on the streets or shipping those unhappy campers Santa Barbara. Then he went horse-back-riding high atop a ranch somewhere.

Yes it is true that the Supreme Court ruled that you cannot keep sane people who are not a harm to others and themselves locked up and drugged against their will. That is a good thing.

3/09/2009 7:02 AM  
Anonymous Spread the Love Boats said...

Dubai might be interested in selling us the retired QE2 ship which we could dock off our coast as the be all, end all homeless shelter.

It has multiple small residential rooms with facilities for thousands of residents. It has kitchens for mass dining and treatment rooms and even a mini hospital.

It has outdoor lounging space, recreational facilities and entertainment lounges. It has restricted access and environmentally suits our maritime ambiance. It even has multiple bars to soak up the money homeless spend on hooch.

Why ruin one more neighborhood with more shelters which don't belong in any part of town and keep resources inefficiently scattered and thus wholly ineffectual.

Use of a retired cruise ship is a win win since it recycles a major resource, provides instant housing and a controlled and centralized treatment environment and can be pointed to with pride as a wholly appropriate response to further charges of unconscionabilty by ACLU lawyers who like to come to Santa Barbara or any other coastal city.

Now all the prime coastal cities can sparkle with these floating homeless shelters and we can restore at the same time these grand old lady cruise ships as a point of pride for all.

3/09/2009 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Stop the insanity said...

People who choose to live on the streets in harms way, on other people's property, and self-drug themselves into grave personal harm are not "sane". It is appropriate to re-institutionalize them for their own good.

And pass anti-vagrancy laws for the rest of them who are merely choosing anti-social lifestyles at the public's expense.

Or else throw out the entire zoning code, because it is discriminatory to apply it only to people who own property and not apply it to those who don't who squat on the land and public domain free and clear of rules and obligations property owners are subject to.

3/09/2009 1:22 PM  
Blogger Matt Mason said...

I like what the mayor has to say about it: Leave it to the county to take care of the homeless.

3/09/2009 2:13 PM  
Blogger Don McDermott said...

Matt; The reason why the City of SB took on the task was because homeless were already here in the city, public demand, non-profits/faith groups ready to partner with the city, the Chamber wanting to relocate the blight off of State Street and the County did not take on the task to the city/community's expectations. I don't think this will change and the City/community of SB is the hub of the region and will have to continue taking the lead roll.

I viewed the suggested 90 minute documentary "Love and Fearlessness" suggested by Liam earlier in this discussion. The bottom line is that we're going to have to deal with this in a manner that is constitutional. To quote David, the featured outdoor sleeper in the documentary "maybe this can be done overnight by a few people and then suddenly everyone wakes up one morning and it's not illegal to sleep outside anymore." I think we've been here enough to know that we're just going to have to accept this "right to sleep in public places."

I think it is interesting how we insist that our opinions are correct and then we find out that the constitution determines otherwise. Apparently it is not illegal in Canada and probably here as well to sleep in public places. We can elect to scowl at and deny services but one thing we cannot do is wake people up and force people to move on. I found the activists intelligent, determined, well spoken, creative, artistic and righteous.

3/09/2009 10:59 PM  
Anonymous No rules, rules! said...

Throw out the zoning code. It is free-for-all time in Santa Barbara. Yeehaw!! We win! Grab what you want. It is your right!!!

3/10/2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger lumberjane said...

I find the term "involuntary" interesting. If you are wasted and you just happen to pass out in a public area, would that be considered "involuntary"? "Gee, I was on my way to the shelter and my body just stopped. My mind was telling me to keep going, but my body refused, so against my will, I am kickin' it here." How does one "involuntarily" fall asleep, sit, or lie down?

3/10/2009 2:45 PM  
Blogger Don McDermott said...

NO rules, rules; The rules must be constitutional.

lumberjane; I think "falling" asleep is always involuntary. I think perhaps your point is whether being homeless is voluntary or not. Your point is well taken. The point I took away from the Canadian documentary was that there is a human right to be voluntarily outside, outside of our corporate structured communities and not expect to be harassed, thrown in jail or awoke from sleep in public places.

3/11/2009 7:12 AM  
Blogger lumberjane said...

I am sorry, but falling asleep is NOT involuntary and to declare sleeping in a public place a "human right" is insane. We have the right to breath air, and drink water, sure. I have the right to enjoy the public area as well. I do not think the the Constitution was written to protect public squatters. Things were very different back then and sleeping in a public place had a very different meaning.

3/11/2009 10:42 AM  
Blogger william said...

I say since Christianity talks and does not do anything, let all the poor homeless go to Sara De la Guerra"s home and let her take them in as she is so concerned and unlike christianity i am sure she will be a doer and not just another anti-christianity talker.

4/18/2009 6:54 AM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

You know not of what you speak...I am a Christian that doesn't see a lot of love and compassion in this area. Not anti-Christian -- anti-lack of praxis in the world.

4/18/2009 7:59 AM  

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