Yes, we are criminalizing homelessness

December 24, 2015
Homeless sign

The sign that greets visitors to our community gives a subtle warning to the homeless that they can’t sleep in their cars or RVs on the streets of SLO. Otherwise, they will get a ticket.


Where can the homeless go without getting ticketed?

Cities are judged by how they treat the less fortunate. On that basis, the “happiest place on earth” is doing poorly. SLO County has about 150 shelter beds for the 2,000-plus homeless. We must have an answer to the question posed by the homeless: “Where can I sleep without being ticketed?”

Until our government has an answer to that question, they should instruct law enforcement not to ticket the homeless for trying to sleep.

Across our nation, laws that make it a crime to not have a place to live are spreading. In the city of San Luis Obispo, they are already here. We treat stray dogs better than we treat our homeless. I have had homeless people tell me they would love to live in one of the dog kennels at the local humane society, where they would have a safe, secure, dry, clean place to live.

Clearly, there are not enough shelter beds. Even if there were, our shelters don’t admit those who drink, curse, have a drug addiction or mental illness, or even a pet dog. Many of our homeless are children, veterans or the elderly. In this relatively affluent community, we should be able to find a way to shelter and feed everyone.

There are affordable, un-subsidized solutions out there, as I have written over and over again in other articles. There simply isn’t enough money to subsidize affordable housing for all who meet the criteria (homeless or low income). Unfortunately, the government officials I have met with have ruled out all “common sense” solutions to housing the un-housed and creating affordable housing.

Tim Waag has lived in San Luis Obispo since 1992. He manages a law firm and donates time to multiple homeless services organizations.



Great opinion piece, Tim. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “I (heart) My Rescue”. If only SLObispan’s were as proud of their human-rescuing as they were their pet-rescuing, that bumper sticker would be something to be proud of.

Tim M.

People are familiar with the term “rescue dog”, meaning a person has rescued a dog from the pound who might later have been put to “permanent rest”. Some have suggested that we start we “rescue person” program. Not a bad idea, IMO.


What an absolute bunch of hooplah.


Well-supported point.

Ted Slanders

PROPOSED STEP ONE: Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Well, obviously the biblical statement above by Jesus hasn’t been followed by local Christians in our community on a whole, so bible teachings haven’t worked.

PROPOSED STEP TWO: CAPSLO and the Maxine Lewis Shelter don’t have enough room to house all of the homeless in our area. The proposed homeless shelter for the Prado Road area would be packed with homeless subsequent to the ceremonial ribbon cutting, and if SLO builds more shelters, yes, the homeless will come to fill those as well. This scenario hasn’t worked to date, and will not work in the future.

PROPOSED STEP THREE: Harshly, can’t the ordinances listed below pertain to the homeless around town, therefore, enact said ordinances all the time?

“17.11.030: Section C, number 3; That it does not result in repeated nuisance activities within the premises or in close proximity of the premises, including but not limited to disturbance of the peace, illegal drug activity, public drunkenness, drinking in public, harassment of passersby, gambling, prostitution, sale of stolen goods, public urination, theft, assaults, batteries, acts of vandalism, excessive littering, LOITERING, graffiti, illegal parking, excessive loud noises, especially in the late night or early morning hours, traffic violations, curfew violations, lewd conduct, or police detentions and arrests;”

Notwithstanding, San Luis Obispo’s Municipal Code relative to public benches regarding loitering; (Chapter 9.40) Seemingly, these Municipal Codes hasn’t worked as well.

PROPOSED STEP FOUR: Subjectively, this one should disturb all TRUE Christians within our community, and this is the insidious actions of the “Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless.” This ungodly coalition has twelve church divisions of faith, but only ONE CHURCH PER MONTH of the existing twelve in our area helps the homeless at their respective place of worship. What’s wrong with this picture?!

This interfaith group should be embarrassed beyond recognition to call themselves Christians and Jews, whereas ALL of these twelve divisional churches should be helping the homeless 24/7/365. For a Christian church not to become hypocritical to Jesus’ teachings, then any time off from helping the poor is biblically not an option, period!

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3)

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17)

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” ( Luke 14:13-14)

Since the “Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless” are hypocritical to the teachings of Jesus the Christ, this situation fails in helping “all of the homeless” within our County.

PROPOSED STEP FOUR: Again, reenact a Civilian Conservation Corp that allows all ages and both genders this time and other training, where if you’re homeless in our area, then you’re to be a part of this organization if you want to stay in SLO County.

Until the homeless can take the initiative to remove themselves from a proposed CCC training program, that is subsidized with local, state and federal assistance, like the existing homeless shelters are, then it is seemingly a win-win situation. The adage of “If you build it, they will come” therefore can possibly be either a deterrent instead of a free ride prize.

Civilian Conservation Corp Concept:

Imagine how far a CCC program within SLO county could go with a six million dollar grant that CAPSLO receives on a yearly basis to house only a few?

Tim M.

Though it’s true that there are 12 houses of worship in SLO that house the homeless during each of the 12 months of the year, I believe, my friend, that you have picked the wrong group to criticize. If you were rational, you could start by criticizing the many houses of worship in SLO that don’t house any homeless ever – ZERO (There are far more than 12 houses of worship in the city, I believe). Next, start criticizing all the other cities and communities in SLO county where there are no programs for houses of worship to house the homeless! Why start by criticizing the group that is doing more any other private group to house the unhoused? Perhaps, you’re being a bit unreasonable?

Ted Slanders

Tim M.,

The twelve churches of the “Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless” are slapping Jesus in the face when they take turns once per month in taking care of the homeless. A Christian church does NOT take care of the homeless on a part time basis, if they actually read their bibles relative to what Jesus proposes, each of the twelve churches involved in this coalition are to take care of the homeless 24/7/365!

Christian should always ask themselves, WWJD?

Tim M.

Mr. Slander, lists 33 churches in SLO, and I believe there are 2 or 3 Jewish temples, plus a Buddhist temple and a few other houses of worship. 11 Churches, plus 1 temple, host the homeless in their church. Why do you choose to criticize the 12 house of worship that DO house the homeless, and leave those who do NOT untouched?

Mr. Slander, may I ask what “house of worship” you are affiliated with, and please provide me with a web link so I can read about how your church takes care of the homeless 24/7 (as you say). I’m waiting…

Oh wait, I’m GUESSING that you don’t lift a finger help the homeless or anyone else? Please prove me wrong. Thanks.

PS – BTW, I see why you call yourself Mr. Slander…


Jesus was talking to a rich kid. That wasn’t instruction to everyone


When Judas was whining about the woman wearing expensive perfume on Jesus feet, Jesus didn’t say ” why yes Judas, the poor are much more important than perfuming my feet with wildly expensive perfume “


Tim. Why not make the answer to “where can I sleep without being ticketed” to “at Tim’s house”.

Charity needs to replace government in caring for these bums. That way those of us who believe that they are in the situation they are in due to substance abuse and a lifetime of alienating themselves from every single person who has ever cared about them aren’t forced to support them.

Those of you who believe their cause is noble can open your hearts and your homes (just be sure to lock your medicine and liquor cabinets).

Tim M.

AchillesHeal – Unfortunately, with the city of SLO’s new Rental Enforcement Department, I doubt that the city would let 2,300 people live at my house. Nice idea, though – thanks!

Actually, charity does already take care of many of our homeless, though we prefer not to call them bums. Unlike our city and county government, the many private citizens do so quietly, without looking for attention, headlines or accolades, which may be why you’ve never heard about it. Among those people, many of us believe that it could be us being homeless instead of them.

Those who think they could never become homeless are kidding themselves. Almost half of all households in the US live paycheck to paycheck – if you lose your job and don’t have friends or relatives to fall back on – TahDah – you are now homeless. Never mind the scenario where you might get in a workplace accident and become permanently disabled (disability tops out at about $800 month – try living on that in SLO!) and lose your ability to support yourself.

No, I do not believe the cause is noble, but I do believe it is the right thing to do, and so do the other people who volunteer to help the homeless. A close relative of mine is disabled, and with the help of many people and services in our community over many years, this relative was able to graduate from college and get a full-time job, where he is now a productive member of society (even though he is still disabled). It was not easy, and it was a lot of work, but in the end, human capital is worth trying to preserve.


If you let them live in your house for free you are not “renting” and the ordinance you cite would not be applicable. Take ’em in!

Tim M.

Wow. You think the city would allow 2,300 people to live at my house? Somehow, I doubt it.

Tim M.

Actually, though I am no expert on the subject, I believe the city has a regulation / ordinance regarding how many people can live in a residence. I’m pretty sure there is a maximum occupancy law for residential structures. Again, “obispan”, our nanny state would not allow it. But thanks for the suggestion anyways! Any other ideas?


The vast majority of homeless people and either mentally ill, abusing drugs or alcohol, or both. Addressing the problems of homeless people would require an enormous investment of energy and resources. We could provide ten times more beds and they would be quickly filled. If you build it they will come. Allowing a large population of mentally unstable and drug/alcohol addicted strangers to simply hang around anywhere and everywhere is simply not fair to the residents who have the right to enjoy their property and to use the public space without fear.

The government already takes more than 60% of every dime I earn. Where does it stop? How much is enough? What, exactly, is my ‘fair share’? I have children to support but the money they need is yanked out of my pocket and given to someone else. What’s fair about that? Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society; granted. But, it is just unfair to demand that I do everything to help people who don’t even try to help themselves.


60% of every dime you earn ?

If you ‘earn’ that much….what would be the top rate, then there is something wrong with your accountants / financial managers.

You’re either purposefully lying or grossly mistaken. Or your money managers are stealing from you.

The top rate is 38.5% at most, and deductions usually lower that.

Maybe you’re living in a different country, or a different decade ?

Noodly Appendages

Do you just shoot this tripe off before thinking it through, or do you think everyone is dumb and you can just ‘win’ argument with fallacies? 60% is probably conservative by the time all the taxes that you omit from your argument are factored in. If it were only the Fed tax I’d be saving $500. a month on property tax, 37 cents a mile on fuel, a couple thousand a year on vehicle registrations, $280 annual for each kid to ride the school bus to public school, State income tax, 8+% sales tax….. I think the only person who got robbed here was you by the people who were supposed to be educating you. SlowertothinkFastertospoutoff.


Who forced you to have children? You’d be surprised how far “40% of a dime” can go.

Tim M.

Nobody said that solving problems was easy, my friend. However, there are affordable non-subsidized housing solutions that are already being implemented across the country. These are not subsidized by the government – not 1 penny. There are many of these solutions out there – just one solution would be tiny home villages – you can read about 11 of these villages at this link: or google “tiny home villages”.


Well, I take the opposite position to Mr. Waag. If a homeless person cannot stay off drugs or booze in order to be receive help from the myriad of agencies and organization that I support with my taxes and my cash donations I don’t want them on the streets. I don’t want my children to hsve to walk around a bunch of strung out bums while on their way to school. I don’t want to watch them pissing in the bushes at the Chevron station on Broad Street because they are stoned and won’t be admitted to one of the 50 beds at the Maxine Lewis Shelter next door.

I want the police to ticket and arrest these bums until they clean up their acts or move on down the road.

If Mr. Waag believes this is unfair, then I will gladly pay for handbills with his address listed and I will pay some enterprising homeless guy to hand them out to his peers. They can enjoy Mr. Waag’s hospitality by camping in his flower beds and keep our streets clean and clear for the rest of us.


My, my, my … we, we, we … I, I, I … See a problem, here?

Tim M.

Unfortunately, Gordo, 12% of the homeless in our country are CHILDREN. A large percentage of our homeless are also disabled, elderly (over 60 years old) or war veterans. A significant percentage of our homeless work full or part time, but don’t make enough to pay for our very expensive housing. You want the police to ticket and arrest who? Children? Full-time workers at minimum wage? Veterans? Really?

As a matter of fact, I do live in SLO, and we have had a mentally ill homeless person living on our street for almost 2 years now. This person is a nuisance, but the many people on our street have worked with law enforcement to make the situation manageable – not an ideal situation, of course, but most of our neighbors have shown extreme compassion to this person because they are a human being, with parents who raised them and love them. Mental illness and what to do about it is a whole other topic.

Tim M.

Gordo, Unfortunately, with the city of SLO’s new Rental Enforcement Department, I doubt that the city would let 2,300 people live at my house. Nice idea, though – thanks!

Seriously, I doubt you are really suggesting the solution to homelessness is to have them all live and eat at my house. The government (not me) would not allow it. Read about how the People’s Kitchen gets shut down for handing out food to the hungry (not necessarily the homeless). Read about it here:

In conclusion, I like your idea to have all our homeless camp at my place, but the nanny state that we are living in would not allow it – any other clever ideas?


The system will eventually take these folks off the street and put them in prison. We did it to dope dealers, we can do it to chronically homeless. This will also send a message to the slackers who think its “cool” to be homeless and live a bum lifestyle.

Florida will probably lead the way on this eventually.


You think it’s cool to be homeless?

Tim M.

It costs far more to put a homeless person in prison than it does to help them get back on their feet. I wouldn’t think this would be a good use of taxpayer money. Unfortunately, with 2,200 homeless people in SLO County alone, throwing them in jail would be expensive indeed. Plus, I don’t think you can throw CHILDREN in jail for being homeless (I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong on that one).


I agree- it’s not a cheap solution. But, it will do the job and our country is mean enough to do it. You’re exactly right- Most homeless, truly homeless, have a mental illness. And we know the number of people developing these types of illness is skyrocketing.


This problem is very difficult. Many are just down on their luck and want the help that is provided. Others want to be transients and don’t want help. These are the people that our challenging the system locally. They are also the ones who are adding to the crime and impact the community negatively.

Think about this: A known transient drinks too much and passes out in down town SLO. Local citizens get concerned and call 911. Police and fire respond, wake the individual up and take them to the hospital for assessment. At the hospital, they are assessed, treated, sober up and are released. They walk out of the ER and make it down town to pan handle and get enough money to do it all again.

Think of the money and resources spent on this one individual. How do we fix this issue? This one individual takes a police officer, fire engine, ambulance away from dealing with other emergencies. Then impacts the already impacted emergency department. It is a very difficult and challenging situation. How can we as a community over come this challenge?


sounds like a nanny state problem


Sounds like nannies braying like the frightened sheep they are.


By opening up our hearts and homes to people that have no homes. But, you see, the happiest community in America is also an American community where competition and greed trumps heart and home. It’s shameful, really, the way the most advanced nation on this planet deals with things like homelessness. The rest of the world is watching us and shaking their heads and waiting for us to turn it around, lead the way.They want us to lead.

Tim M.

Yes, 805local, the problem is complex and difficult – I’m not denying that. You have discovered the truth in your statement: the cycle you describe taxes our courts and public services to the extreme, and that translates into big bucks. Across the country, people have turned to what is called the “housing first” model for homelessness (google it). In many cities, the “housing first” model saves money by reducing police service calls and Emergency Room visits. You can read about it here:

Rich in MB

How are we to have a rational discussion of the issue when one of the town’s smartest guy takes this approach:

“The SLO ordinance is a TORTURE doctrine, in violation of humanity.”

Well then, they should arrest Obama because he has caused me many sleepless night in thinking about the damage he is doing to this Country.

Crazy…sure….just trying to keep up with you.

Ted Slanders

Rich in MB,

WAIT, you’re disparaging the wrong guy! If you do your homework correctly, George “W” Bush caused the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression and “damage” under his watch. The GOP has yet to produce one, and I repeat, ONE JOBS BILL since Boener heralded this notion about in the elections in 2012. What happened to those jobs the Republicans promised? Were they too busy worrying about women’s rights, Benghazi (41 investigations and counting), repealing “Obamacare” for the 42nd time, and other comical acts, to take the time in making jobs for the American people to there wouldn’t be so many homeless?

This of course is barring the “damage” Bush did in getting us into a fraudulent war in the Mideast where many of our soldiers, and innocent citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq, have been needlessly killed.

I am sure you thank “W” every night in opening up the mid east by removing the balance of power in the region, whereas, the consequences of this inept act are seen today.


“….getting us into a fraudulent war in the Mideast…” Really?

So, you are/were alright with Sadam killing over up to 900,000 of his own citizens. WOW! What a humanitarian!

Then ask yourself how many Demos voted for the war.

As for your muslim friend B. Hussein Obama, he was told that there would be a substantial penalty for early withdrawal for Iraq. That is why he fired every General that did not tell him exactly what he wanted to hear.

There is no doubt that he is on the side of the muslims when it comes to a religious war, he has stated so in his book.

I pray USA can recover from the damages he has done to our once great country.


I never said the SLO ordinance is a torture doctrine in violation of humanity, or anything like that. Apology demanded.