SLO parking ordinance to restrict helping the homeless
June 7, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A proposed San Luis Obispo ordinance that would allow select homeless individuals to sleep in their vehicles at night contains provisions barring most charitable organizations from providing overnight parking and directs homeless vehicle owners instead to the services of the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO).
San Luis Obispo is in the process of drafting and adopting an ordinance to establish a permanent safe parking program.
On Tuesday, the Human Relations Commission voted unanimously to approve the ordinance which requires homeless individuals who wish to sleep in their vehicles at night to participate in Transitions Mental Health or CAPSLO’s case management programs. None of the commissioners expressed any concerns over the amount of money CAPSLO demands from case management clients.
CAPSLO, which has supported aggressive ticketing of homeless in the past, oversees the nightly parking program at the day center and requires participants to enroll in its case management services, with a stated goal of helping homeless individuals achieve self-sufficiency and housing.
However, a CalCoastNews investigation has revealed that case management is very costly for clients and few achieve housing because of the program.
CAPSLO requires case management clients to turn over the majority of their income to the agency or sign over all of their money to Family ties, a nonprofit operated by San Luis Obispo County’s chief deputy public guardian Lisa Niesen. Family Ties has violated federal laws by keeping too much Social Security Disability income of a former CAPSLO case management client, according to Social Security Administration documents.
CAPSLO Director of Homeless Services Dee Torres contends homeless individuals need to be managed by an agency already providing services to the homeless.
“I think it’s important to have a service provider that has experience with the population,” Torres said Tuesday.
City Housing Programs Manager Tyler Corey agreed. Corey said the proposed ordinance limits organizational participation in the safe parking program to ensure that the agencies have “experience and the credentials” to transition the homeless into housing.
San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins, however, said the city should allow organizations that wish to help the homeless to do so.
“This ordinance says that our church or your church or your business can’t go to the city directly and say we’re responsible people. We have bathrooms. We want to set up a parking program for the poor,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins, who successfully sued the city over its ticketing of the homeless last year, said the proposed ordinance “essentially gives a monopoly to the one or two” organizations that meet the restrictive criteria used to define a social service provider. He warned that the ordinance violates the first and fifth amendments to the United States Constitution on freedom of religion and property rights grounds.
“My suggestion to you to prevent the city from facing further problems later on and to allow our citizens to exercise their rights to be charitable individuals to the folks that they want to provide for is this needs to be reworked entirely,” Jenkins said.
Prior to suing the city on behalf of the homeless in 2012, Jenkins also warned the council about unconstitutional language in its ordinance prohibiting overnight parking.
An existing ordinance prohibits people from sleeping in vehicles within the San Luis Obispo city limits between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Amid complaints about police ticketing homeless for sleeping in their vehicles, the San Luis Obispo City Council created a pilot safe parking program last year. The safe parking program allows five individuals or families to park their cars at night in the Prado Day Center parking lot.
The proposed ordinance, which must still gain planning commission and city council approval to become law, establishes guidelines for expanding the safe parking program.
The ordinance requires that an organization receive approval from the Community Development Director and obtain a planning commission approved use permit in order to manage a safe parking site.
In order to do so, in accordance with the proposed ordinance, an organization must prove its status as a social service provider registered with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a Housing and Urban Development database.
When asked by the Human Relations Commission Tuesday how many local organizations participate in the HMIS, Torres said only three do. Of those three organizations, only CAPSLO and Transitions Mental Health provide case management, which the proposed ordinance also requires.
The city has already planned to budget $10,000 for CAPSLO to operate the parking program in the fiscal year that begins next month.