Homeless reject SLO parking plan
May 29, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: See Dee Torres’ refusal to respond to questions and Supervisor Adam Hill asks San Luis Obispo City Council to approve parking program at the bottom of this story.
By KAREN VELIE
Throughout the city of San Luis Obispo, hundreds of homeless sleep in their vehicles risking the threat of raids by local police, heavy fines, jail time for unpaid tickets and, ultimately, the loss of their only shelter.
Even so, those in need of a secure place to park at night say the terms set by management of the Prado Day Center will violate their basic constitutional rights and further erode the little control they have over their lives.
In March 2011, San Luis Obispo County supervisor and former chair of the Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC), Adam Hill, signed a safe parking resolution that states that homeless who sleep in their cars are a threat to public safety. (Supervisor Jim Patterson is the current chair of the HSOC. Hill, who stepped down from his chair position last fall, continues to claim on his website and at political forums that he is currently the HSOC chair.)
In March, San Luis Obispo City Council members voted to approve the implementation of a pilot program aimed at providing safe parking for a small number of homeless who sleep in their vehicles at night at a cost to the city in staff time of approximately $80,000. The Prado Day Center, which is under the umbrella of Community Action Partnership (CAPSLO), is slated to spend an additional $11,000 to $18,000 bringing the total cost to just under $100,000 for the six-month pilot period.
The pilot program allows CAPSLO to provide five-parking spots at the Prado Day Center on a lot already owned by the city.
To date, none of these spaces has been occupied.
At a recent Homeless Services Oversight Committee meeting, homeless services coordinator Dee Torres announced that no one had yet applied for the parking program likely because their social activities prevented them from wanting to take part, said Grover Beach Councilwoman Karen Bright.
Several people who sleep in their vehicles on Prado Road said they applied for the program and were either turned away or chose not to continue the application process because of the financial requirements.
The rules for those who would like to utilize the parking spots include signing over their payroll or government checks to a Prado administrator who will manage their finances with the stated goal of using the funds to place them into housing.
Currently, homeless who utilize services at the Prado Day Center, including the meal program and the proposed parking program, are required to agree to searches of their persons and vehicles.
During their presentation on the proposed parking plan, city staffers pointed to a successful program in Santa Barbara that provides spaces for more than 100 cars. And while Santa Barbara’s program includes case management, it does not include the requirement to sign over income and subsidy checks, said Nancy Kapp, Santa Barbara’s Homeless Outreach coordinator and case manager.
“These people are living on $1,000 a month and you don’t take money from these people,” Kapp said. “It is highway robbery and wrong.
“We are a non-profit and our services are free. You don’t give something and ask for something, you give it unconditionally.”
SLO Community Director Derek Johnson defended the program saying, “The idea is to help people become self-sufficent and to learn how to manage their money. We are working to transfer people out of homelessness.”
Nevertheless, 56 percent of California’s homeless have a disabling condition, 52 percent are on some type of government assistance, and another 25 percent work at least 20 hours per week often not making enough to pay for food, necessities and housing, according to California’s 2009 Homeless Count Summary.
The chronically homeless – those who are either physically disabled, mentally ill, mentally challenged, elderly, or deep in the throes of alcoholism – cost taxpayers an average of $65,000 a year in medical costs alone, according to a University of California San Diego Medical Center study.
In Denver, local agencies run a program aimed at providing assistance to the chronically homeless while the cost of their healthcare is cut an average of two thirds. Clients are provided efficiency lodging at approximately $15,000 a year per enrollee, less than a third of what it costs to leave them on the streets.
San Luis Obispo County has few resources available for the mentally ill and the chronically homeless who are both unlikely to become productive members of society.
Attorney Stew Jenkins contends publicly funded services and benefits must be available to all on an equitable and legal basis.
“A number of courts have grappled with cities and counties throughout the nation who have tried to condition the provision of publicly funded services by prohibiting individuals from being eligible unless they waive their fourth amendment rights to be secure in their persons, homes, and effects,” Jenkins said. “In general, these kinds of programs conditioning eligibility for public benefits on first giving up constitutional rights have been struck down.
“The Prado Day Center rules so broadly require so many waivers of legal and constitutional rights that they do not appear to meet this standard. In fact, these rules are so broadly written that an individual missing a daily dose of prescribed heart burn medication a couple of days in a row could be suspended from health services, employment development referrals, showers or meals based on the whim of whoever is assigned to provide enforcement for up to four months.”
Nevertheless, on Friday, Jenkins accompanied two homeless residents interested in utilizing the parking spaces and was informed there is no application available. Homeless interested in the spaces are only permitted to verbally apply for safe parking during two hour windows set for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Jenkins said
Susan Perez currently resides in a small RV she parks on Prado Road. She applied for one of the five parking spots and contends she does not object to the urine testing or the breathalyzer, but she refuses to sign her disability check over to an administrator because in six months, when her husband is off probation, she plans to move from the area. Prado’s financial requirement would have left Perez about $200 a month to live on.
“I met all the requirements for parking,” Perez said. “Dee Torres wanted me to make her my payee. She wants to keep 70 percent of my income.”
Homeless for about a year and a half, Randal Reed is battling cancer. The former Navy seal was sent to Los Angeles veterans services about a year ago where an MRI showed his back is riddled with tumors. He is still awaiting a followup appointment.
Meanwhile, he is unable to work and had been sleeping by a creek. That was before another homeless man said he would share his RV, parked on Prado Road so Reed would have easy access to homeless services.
However, on June 1, Reed will have to choose between sleeping in the RV or being permitted to have a meal at the day center. Following the refusal of homeless who eat meals at the Prado Day Center to apply for the pilot program parking spaces, center management posted a notice that those who sleep in their cars along Prado Road will be barred from using the center’s homeless services.
“This is an infraction of our rights,” Reed said. “We are being harassed. Dee Torres is not good to the homeless.”
In April, attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit against the city of San Luis Obispo and the chief of police for discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people. The attorneys are asking the court to order the city to stop enforcing a city ordinance that prohibits sleeping in vehicles and to pay financial damages and costs on behalf of their homeless clients.
In response, the city hired the Oakland based attorney firm of Burke Williams & Sorensen.
Jenkins said the city had an opportunity to avoid the lawsuit by stopping its discrimination against the homeless. He wrote to the city attorney and council shortly before filing the suit and asked the city to suspend its sleeping vehicle ordinance, dismiss pending citations, expunge convictions and return fines.
The city refused Jenkins’ request.
Dee Torres’ refusal to respond to questions
Homeless services coordinator Dee Torres refused to respond to questions about the Prado Day Center’s safe parking program or rules instead asking for several retractions regarding a story published on March 22 titled “SLO homeless plan facing legal battle.”
“You state in your article that I am a proponent of the more aggressive ticketing of homeless people camping in their vehicles,” Torres said. “This is a lie. I made no such statement.”
However, Torres said during the March 20 SLO City Council meeting that she supported staff’s proposal that included the more aggressive ticketing.
In addition, Torres responded to a letter from Tim Waag critical of the more aggressive ticketing with her reasons the proposed increased enforcement is important.
“I can tell you that my staff and I made it clear to the city and the chief that the unregulated encampment on Prado Road have been extremely problematic for our staff and clients,” Torres wrote.
Torres also asked for a retraction related to the cost of the program.
“You state that the pilot program would cost $80,000. This is untrue. It was made very clear at the meeting that at the very most the total cost predicted for CAPSLO to run the six-month pilot program would be close to $18,000.”
However, during the city council meeting, Torres did not quote a price CAPSLO expected to pay for the program. City staff, however, did estimate the program would cost the city $79,923 in man hours, according to a tape of the meeting and a power point presentation.
Torres’ final request for retraction was regarding a reference to her relationship with Supervisor Hill. “You refer to me as “the girlfriend” of Supervisor Adam Hill, which I find to be a demeaning characterization.”
CalCoastNews retracts published information when it turns out to be untrue and offered to retract the statement if they were no longer in a relationship at the time of the meeting. Torres did not respond.
Supervisor Adam Hill asks San Luis Obispo City Council to support the parking program which included more aggressive ticketing of homeless who sleep in their cars.