Opposition to Sanctioned Homeless Encampments in Sonoma County
Opposition to Sanctioned Homeless Encampments in Sonoma County
Citizens For Action Now! Sonoma County Opposes sanctioned encampments and demands the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma enforce laws and regulations (i) against (a) vagrancy, (b) the public disposal of waste, trash and debris, and (ii) the open, public use of certain illegal drugs, and (iii) ensuring public health and safety and the full, unfettered use of any and all public property at all times.
Dear Board of Supervisors and Santa Rosa Council Members,
We at Citizens For Action Now! (CAN!) are sympathetic to those afflicted with drug addiction and those in need of housing and support services. We are supportive of real solutions to solving our current challenges and want to make a difference, not only today, but for our future. The future of our community is at risk. For the reasons outlined below, CAN! opposes creating a sanctioned encampment as a temporary or long-term solution for homeless and demands the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma enforce existing laws and regulations; 1. against (a) vagrancy, (b) the public disposal of waste, trash, and debris, and (c) the open, public use of certain illegal drugs, and 2. ensuring public health and safety and the full, unfettered use of any and all public property at all times.
Given (i) today's US Supreme Court decision not to hear the appeal in City of Boise vs. Martin, (ii) the City of Santa Rosa (City) and County of Sonoma (County) require clear and practical guidelines on the proper scope of their authority to strike the best possible balance in our shared public spaces, and (iii) Boise does not give that requisite guidance, Boise creates ambiguity and uncertainty around legal limits to the manner in which a City, County, or other municipality in the 9th District may enforce its rules regarding conduct on its sidewalks, streets, open spaces, and other public property. Boise is internally inconsistent, which makes it, by definition, unclear. As such, we suggest our local officials enforce our existing laws and regulations.
Our local non-profits and others now have documentation of staff offering services to certain Rodota Trail individuals who decline shelter, services, or treatment. Many, if not most, such individuals appear, at times, to be under the influence of unknown substances and/or suffering from mental illness. Without the ability to hold these individuals accountable, their behavior has been destructive to our community and puts those willing to help them at risk. In fact, our sources have informed us that a significant percentage of the transients in Sonoma County originate from other cities, with arrest records for serious crimes, often the result of illegal drug use.
We, as tax paying citizens in the City, are angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed; we feel unsafe in our own beloved City. The City has mental health services, mobile mental health services, permanent shelters, and substance abuse programs available, each, at times, underutilized, despite vigorous outreach. The City and County have, at times, said this is an affordable housing issue, when in fact, all those now remaining on the Joe Rodota Trail have declined shelter. This is an addiction and mental health issue requiring enforcement of involuntary treatment options with strict rules and guidelines preventing both illegal activity and behavior by the addict endangering both themselves and others.
A sanctioned encampment will increase legal and financial liability for the City and County and will pose further harm to our residents and community. In fact, the City has already experienced the enormous impact of the previous camp behind Dollar Tree, the one finally cleared in 2017, with more homeless coming back before a final sweep in 2018. And, this is almost certainly nothing compared to the human toll that a sanctioned encampment will create. What happens if someone in the encampment commits suicide, harms another person (or, worse, a child), or gets ill and dies? Is the County or City ready to defend itself against lawsuits? Does the County or City have the money to pay restitution? With a new encampment, the County and City would likely be opening yourselves, and all of us, to unending, and expensive legal battles.
Because of the complications, costs, increased liability and safety risks, and public health implications of sanctioned encampments, and due to the constraints of the injunction issued by the US District Court in Vannucci et al v County of Sonoma et al, CAN! proposes the following:
- Do not build or allow an encampment, whether low-barrier or high-barrier;
- Wait out the Vannucci injunction that is set to expire on June 30, 2020;
- Continue to collect and report data to the US District Court of the individuals offered shelter and refusing same;
- Coordinate with other jurisdictions to refer transients, addicts and vagrants to facilities with the infrastructure and resources to accommodate the disability requirements (i.e. Kern County);
- Request County and City transients to voluntarily leave the County; assist with transportation to their family and/or back to their hometown or other preferred location. Approve a budget to pay for transportation costs via bus, train or flight;
- Continue to offer shelter. If shelter is refused, document reason for refusal and require the offeree leave the area or be arrested if they do not leave the area;
- Enforce laws and regulations in any and all areas of the County and City, regardless if those breaking such law or regulation are homeless;
- Support our local law enforcement and provide them the tools, funding, man-power or any other additional resources they need to do their job
- To keep the community we love safe for you, our children, and our businesses;
- to protect those in need and transport them to facilities where they can get the help they deserve;
- to help create a thriving community where people, no matter what income level they have, are able to live in peace;
- Contract with correctional facilities to take in illegal drug users;
- Approve additional law enforcement staff and programs that support its efforts to serve and protect.
Any sanctioned shelter should reasonably safeguard those who are sheltered there as well as the residents who live in the immediate area. If the County Board of Supervisors votes for a sanctioned encampment, CAN! proposes that it should only be done under the following conditions and stipulations:
1. A single, temporary-only encampment; terminates on earlier of (i) 6 months, or (ii) expiration of the injunction;
2. No more individuals than are present at Rodota the earlier of the first date the encampment is established or January 1, 2020;
3. Once established, no expansion of the sanctioned encampment;
4. Tight space constraints with a designated sanctioned encampment area;
5. Uniformity and structure; no personal tents, tarps, structures, furniture, etc.
6. Enforcement of existing law and regulation throughout the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma and enforcement of same;
7. Rodota Trail fully restored to public use on or before 15 January 2020;
8. Accommodations at sanctioned encampment do not extend to campers now within other municipalities, including, but not limited to, Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, or Cotati; no movement of campers to Santa Rosa from other jurisdictions;
9. Strict drug and alcohol use standards in place, including testing for reasonable suspicion;
10. Strict behavioral standards in place;
11. Strict management of encampment by City or County (or both); or by private, non-profit providers with extensive prior experience managing shelters; and
12. No involvement by Homeless Action! or Sonoma Applied Village Services
It is imperative that strict oversight is in place before the proposed shelter is in place and reporting is made on at least a monthly basis. More importantly, we at CAN! continue to be concerned that the County and City will not be able to make the camp a requirement for those living on the street. We would like to know how the County and City plans on enforcing this mandatory housing and what the plan is if the individual refuses to move from their current location. We look forward to your proposal if this is a decision you decide to move forward with.
Thank you in advance for taking immediate steps to ensure our safety and security.
Citizens for Action Now! Sonoma County