Free legal help for San Luis Obispo homeless
March 26, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
In an attempt to help homeless subjected to heavy fines from San Luis Obispo police for sleeping in their vehicles, attorneys Stew Jenkins and Saro Rizzo are working pro bono to stop what they see as illegal enforcement.
At the behest of Prado Road business owners, police wake up homeless sleeping in their cars and hand them $450 a shot tickets four or five times a month. Several homeless unable to keep up with the fines and the $50 a day in late fees, serve time in the San Luis Obispo County Jail to cover their debt.
Jenkin’s concerns — and actions the city could take to remedy the issue — were spelled out in a letter he sent to city council members last week.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said she believes the city’s ordinance is legal and will withstand a challenge.
Jenkins and Rizzo contend the current implementation of the ordinance is in violation of California law and both the California and U.S. Constitutions, because it criminalizes human existence.
On Thursday morning, at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court courtroom at the Veteran’s Hall, Rizzo and Jenkins represented several homeless and were successful at having their cases delayed while they work on filing a lawsuit against the city.
“When we showed up we asked if anyone there who was homeless needed help because of being ticketed for parking and we ended up with eight people,” Jenkins said. “It was obvious that the city’s ordinance is burdening an already overtaxed court system. All the seats were full and there were people waiting to be heard sitting along the aisles all the way to the counsel table.”
On Friday afternoon, Jenkins and Rizzo set up a table behind the statue of the Indian on the corner of Prado Road and Higuera Street where they met more than a dozen homeless to discuss their tickets.
Rizzo and Jenkins plan to file a lawsuit that will force the city to suspend its sleeping vehicle ordinance, dismiss pending citations, expunge convictions and return fines to all of the homeless its officers have ticketed since November.