Judge orders SLO police to stop ticketing homeless
July 4, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
A San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction barring police from ticketing homeless who sleep in their vehicles, in a ruling on Tuesday.
In April, attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit accusing the city of San Luis Obispo and the chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people. In addition, Rizzo and Jenkins noted the ordinance the city was utilizing to ticket people for sleeping in their vehicles refers to private property and not public streets.
In May, Judge Charles Crandall took the motions under submission, ordered a settlement conference, and urged the city to voluntarily refrain from issuing citations while the issue was under discussion.
The city, however, ignored the request and instead ramped up its late night raids.
At the June settlement conference, Rizzo and Jenkins offered three different options to resolve the matter. City Attorney Christine Dietrick, who said in March that the city would beat any challenges to its ticketing program, proposed no solutions and did not appear to have the ability to enter into a resolution, Jenkins said.
In February, while homeless services coordinator Dee Torres was promoting a safe parking program for those who agree to her management terms, the city changed from directing the homeless to sleep in their vehicles on Prado Road to making it a criminal offense, Crandall said in his ruling.
“In addition to using an enforcement strategy that appears to be singling out poor and homeless people for harsher treatment, the court is very uneasy with the specific manner in which the police have apparently been enforcing Standard 015 and issuing criminal citations,” Crandall said.
“These methods include but are not limited to, the use of late-night police forays needlessly utilizing flashing lights, blaring horns, intimidation, threats and other scare tactics,” Crandall added. “These methods are apparently designed not only to force legal compliance, but to also intimidate plaintiffs into leaving the city altogether.”
In March, amid complaints that the ticketing of the homeless was unconstitutional, the city council voted to approve the CAPSLO pilot parking program. The program allows five cars to park overnight in the Prado Day Center parking lot without being ticketed for having homeless sleeping inside.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, a proponent of the more aggressive ticketing, asked the council not to heed public comments by members of the public who opposed Torres’ proposal because the issue of homelessness is too complicated for most lay people to understand.
The handful of homeless permitted to utilize the parking program are required to sign over 70 percent of their income to homeless services to be used in securing housing. In addition, homeless services then charges the client $12.50 in administration fees.
For example, a homeless man on general assistance, $315 per month, would be left with $82.
On June 22, the city launched the parking program filling all five spots. However, two of those utilizing the parking program have already dropped out because of the cost.
Kimberly Frey-Griffen, 43, served in Desert Storm and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. For the past 10 months, she has been homeless. She decided to participate in the safe parking program, but has already dropped out. Frey-Griffen said she is unable to maintain her vehicle and cover her living expenses with the monies left over after doling out 70 percent to homeless services.
“The 70 percent is a little too high,” Frey-Griffen said. “You have to give us something to live on. Dee Torres said there would be a sliding scale, but that is not true.”
“Homelessness is not a criminal offense, however, you get the feeling that you are,” Frey-Griffen said. “I am very happy about this ruling.”