Bill prohibits retaliation against homeless sleeping in cars
June 2, 2015
A bill that would protect homeless people sleeping in their cars from harassment, removal from their vehicles and civil and criminal penalties in California made a key step forward on Monday.
Assembly Bill 718, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Kansen Chu of San Jose, advanced to the Senate with a 54-12 vote. Because the bill addresses the health and safety of homeless individuals, the legislature determined the measure would also apply to charter cities such as San Luis Obispo.
In 2012, attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit accusing the city of San Luis Obispo and its chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people because of its raids and ticketing of homeless caught sleeping in their cars.
Following a decision by a superior court judge that the city’s treatment of the homeless was unconstitutional, the San Luis Obispo City Council agreed to dismiss all tickets given that year to homeless residents for sleeping in their vehicles.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick responded by recommending the council adopt an ordinance under the health, safety and welfare section of the city’s municipal code, which would specifically allow police to immediately restart its program of ticketing sleeping homeless.
In addition, the police department created a task force to focus on the homeless and began raiding homeless encampments. Shortly afterwards, a local homeless agency tasked with providing food and shelter began barring homeless people with substance abuse problems.
“It is gratifying to see the Assembly so clearly say that poor people sleeping in a vehicle, often the only shelter that they have left for themselves and their children, are not committing a criminal act,” Jenkins said. “Poverty is not solved by making it a crime to be poor. Poverty is solved by cities and counties that spur local job creation, economic growth and the development of housing affordable for folks at the lower and middle rungs of the economic ladder, instead of just for those on the higher economic steps.”