SLO police again accused of hassling the homeless
October 11, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: See San Luis Obispo City Council candidate Matt Strzepec’s accounting of alleged police harassment of the homeless at the bottom of this story.
By KAREN VELIE
A former San Luis Obispo City Council candidate has reentered the race and filed a formal complaint against the police for harassment.
A little more than a month after Matt Strzepek announced he was dropping out of the race, he announced plans to run for one of two four-year council seats also being sought by firefighter Kevin Rice, history teacher Jeff Aranguena and current councilmen John Ashbaugh and Dan Carpenter.
Strzepek earned a degree in history from Le Moyne College before going to work as a counselor and instructor at Binghamton University in New York. Currently, Strzepek is a local property manager who also volunteers at several non-profits in the community. And like thousands in our community, he has been homeless.
“Like many of our city’s residents, I have experienced challenges in this recession,” Strzepek said in an email. “I have walked in the shoes of our homeless citizens, quietly taking shelter in my vehicle while looking for work. As such, I know what it’s like to be on the margins of society. I have been woken up by police officers in the middle of the night for doing nothing more than sleeping.
“Furthermore, I have witnessed current city council members ignore a crying college student who is taking shelter in her vehicle because she cannot afford both tuition and housing. The city council is out of touch and has pitted neighbor against neighbor. I believe we can do better”
Strzepek’s announcement comes at a time members of the homeless community contend police officers are hassling people they spot on McMillan Avenue and Prado Road who they think may be homeless. The officers allegedly give the names to homeless services providers who then bar them from receiving meals, taking showers and having a bed in the shelter at night.
Officials with the police department did not return requests for comment.
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.
The Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter, which operate under the umbrella of Community Action Partnership (CAPSLO), require those who utilize overnight services to provide CAPSLO with 70 percent of their incomes to be used in the future to provide housing.
CAPSLO takes an average of one and a half to two years to get someone into housing, said Dee Torrez, CAPSLO’s homeless services director at the March city council meeting.
Opponents of the program, many of whom are on Social Security, contend the moneys required to utilize services keep them from having the funds they need to purchase basics such as food and toiletries.
After the majority of local homeless refused to enter CAPSLO’s parking program, CAPSLO began enforcing a rule that bars homeless services for those seen on certain public streets between 4:30 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Stew Jenkins, an attorney whose lawsuit against the city resulted in the dismissal of all tickets given this year to homeless residents for sleeping in their vehicles, contends the city’s current actions are again unconstitutional, discrimination and the criminalization of homeless people.
Stew Jenins and Saro Rizzo’s prior suit is likely to cost the city more than $500,000 in legal fees and related costs before it finishes winding its way through the court.
“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.
City officials and CAPLO administrators claim members of the homeless community who are refusing to utilize services do so because of addiction issues or that they want to remain homeless and not because of the financial requirements.
In Santa Barbara, homeless services administrators have implemented a successful program 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.
On Oct. 1, Strzepek said San Luis Obispo police officer Eric Lincoln approached him and several other people on McMillan Avenue and began verbally abusing them. The officer also took the names of several people he found park and provided the information to CAPSLO, Strzepek said.
“At least one homeless citizen, an elderly gentleman with a reputation for sharing his food with others, was denied a meal at the shelter because of this action,” Strzepek said.
Jenkins said the officer’s actions constitute interference with services and restraint of trade.
“If the police are collecting names of people and taking them to a charitable organization to not have them served, it is pure discrimination based on poverty,” Jenkins said. “The new ordinance is not in effect at this time. And the only punishment is a parking ticket, not denial of services.”
The following is Strzepec’s account of several incidents that allegedly occurred on Oct 2.
“San Luis Obispo police officer Eric Lincoln approached Strzepek on McMillan Avenue and shined a flashlight in my face,” Strzepek said.
Lincoln: What are you doing here?
Strzepek: Who are you? (could see nothing but light shining in my face)
Lincoln: What are you doing here?
Strzepek: Who are you?
Lincoln: You know who I am. You’ve been listening to me for the last twenty minutes.
Strzepek: Actually, I just got here about twenty seconds ago. I can’t see you with the light in my face. Will you please identify yourself?
Lincoln: I’m the police.
Strzepek: May I please see your identification?
Lincoln: I don’t have to show you that. You’re with these people (gestures to homeless citizens taking shelter in a nearby RV).
Strzepek: No, I’m not. I don’t know them.
Lincoln: Are you homeless? Are you homeless?
Strzepek: My attorney has advised me not to discuss that issue.
Lincoln: Well, I was going to educate you tonight. Tell your attorney you’re an idiot.
Strzepek: Excuse me?
Lincoln: I’ll remember you. I’ll see you on the flip side of the law, asshole.
“Lincoln and his partner approach two female citizens who have disabilities and who are taking shelter in their vehicle, on which they are trying to repair something. Some tools and personal belongings are neatly set on the side of the curb, hidden from public view by their vehicle, Strzepek said
Lincoln: Get that crap off the street. Look at all your stuff. Get your crap off the street.
Lincoln: We got a call about you.
Female: For what?
Lincoln: Somebody got your license plate.
Female: Our trunk is raised. How could anybody read our license plate? What is this about?
Lincoln: Are you homeless?
Female: How is that any of your business?
Lincoln: I have a home. I’m not homeless. Why are you homeless? Why can’t you get your act together?
Female: Please don’t speak to us that way. I used to be a public safety officer and would never speak to citizens that way.
Lincoln: Well, you must not have been very good at your job. Don’t be such idiots.
Strzepek (who had walked over earlier to witness this provocation by the officer): Ask him for his name and badge number.
Lincoln: You, stop talking! You didn’t want to talk to me earlier.