Santa Rosa City Council: More Beds, Not Jail for People Experiencing Homelessness
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~ Increased Suffering For the Homeless ~
This week, on Tuesday, August 8, after 5 pm the Santa Rosa City Council will consider increased criminalization of homeless people and certain minor crimes will be penalized with fines up to $1000 and six months in jail. Currently these crimes receive fines of up to $250 and no jail time.
Five of the nine categories of crime are rarely committed by the housed, including obstructing sidewalks, panhandling and camping (aka sleeping) in public.
The Santa Rosa Police Department is already making more arrests and citations of homeless people. This change would give them another instrument of control and there is no evidence that this change benefits anyone.
The City has ample homeless misdemeanor charging capability, and is using it regularly. California Penal Code Section 643 (e) has been used each week for the last three months to charge anyone "who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it." It is the misdemeanor of choice now being used in the eviction of Homeless Hill.
We hear rhetoric about equal enforcement of the laws and that this will be enforced in a careful (even kind and gentle) way. But, these laws will not be enforced against friends drinking wine with a picnic or a young man who forgets to use the bathroom before leaving a bar. They will be used against those suffering from the heat, and the stigma of homelessness.
Criminal convictions will exacerbate housing, employment, and health care access for those homeless the City hopes to support.
Santa Rosa is, in effect, considering formalizing another level of discrimination against people in need of supportive, affordable housing.
The City of Santa Rosa has recently undertaken a Homeless Encampment Pilot Project aimed at providing permanent affordable housing through a "Housing First"-modeled shelter and housing navigation system. While this is only the seed of a "carrot" approach to reducing the "community impact" of homelessness, it should be allowed to demonstrate its capabilities to the entire community before actions as drastic as these sword-like "sticks" are brought into play.
If the Council majority finds it important to improve the quality of life in Santa Rosa, it should do so by focusing on actions unrelated to the condition of being homeless.
It would make far more financial and humanitarian sense for Santa Rosa City Council to fully fund a safe parking space or ensure an emergency shelter bed for all who are unsheltered and therefore in cue for assistance with Housing First, rather than incurring far greater public expense per person for police, courts, and jail cells for some of those who are unsheltered.
Please let your council members know you oppose the measure, by signing this petition, and if you can, by attending and speaking at the Santa Rosa City Council meeting. (One typed or handwritten page can usually be read aloud within the three minute time limit.) Please arrive by 5 pm, this Tuesday, Aug. 8, in the City Council Chambers, Santa Rosa City Hall, 100 Santa Rosa Ave., one block south of the Santa Rosa Transit Mall.
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