The Temporary Outdoor Living Ordinance and the Camping Services and Standards Ordinance
We do not support laws that criminalize natural consequences of being human, like seeking shelter or other survival behaviors. In doing so, we believe the TOLO was in no way realistic, workable, effective, moral, or legally sound.
More specifically, we believe policing is not an effective response to social problems in general, and is particularly not helpful when it comes to houselessness. What’s more, criminalizing unhoused people often involves fining and incarcerating them, which only serves to compound the instability and poverty faced by our unhoused neighbors and drive them deeper into houselessness. Instead, we call for policies that lift people out of houselessness, not deepen its prevalence.
We also reject the anti-community process undertaken to bring forward TOLO, which included zero community engagement and failed to capitalize on the expertise of unhoused people themselves, local community workers that address the issue on a daily basis, and the countless number of compassionate community members eager to support. We believe the people who bear the brunt of social problems are also those who have irreplaceable insight into creating solutions to those problems.
We also reject arguments that suggest the unhoused community cannot seek shelter outdoors due to false environmental degradation concerns. We know that human beings are equal members in our local ecosystem and we cannot separate their well-being from that of our natural spaces. We support solutions that provide equal access to sanitation and waste management services for all residents regardless of housing status and, furthermore, find creative ways for all humans to live in harmony with the environment and mitigate climate chaos.
The Overnight RV Parking Ban Ordinance Update
Instead of pursuing productive solutions like helping vehicles get registered, providing free, sanitary methods for grey water disposal, and providing more refuse services (all services that would be of benefit to all community members), you have chosen to tow, ticket, and hand out misdemeanors to people who are financially unable to comply with this policy - directly creating more unsheltered homelessness. As with the reactive and unresearched Camping Services and Standards Ordinance- this anti-parking ordinance is not a novel idea where we will have to wait to see if it is effective. We can already see the direct impacts of policy like this both locally, and on a state level.
Locally, as a result of SCPD’s recent “Operation Westside Story” at least one person found themselves in new unsheltered homelessness- an elderly, disabled person who had his car towed. He was able to connect with someone who could share his story and attempt to help him, but how many weren’t? (source: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thegreatsharecollective/posts/959417751581772)
On a state level, a report from The Western Center on Law and Poverty found that “for people who are low income the consequences of a towed vehicle can be devastating. The cost to retrieve a car after a city-ordered tow is out of reach for many. For many Californians a vehicle tow means the permanent loss of their car and, along with it, the loss of employment, access to education and medical care, and, for some, their only shelter.
Nonetheless, local governments throughout California regularly tow vehicles for relatively minor offenses: outstanding parking tickets, lapsed vehicle registration, and remaining parked in one place for more than 72 hours. Despite constitutional limits on the government’s ability to seize a vehicle in these non-emergency situations, cities routinely tow legally parked cars that pose no threat to public safety.”
Also, “cities are losing money on tows, especially when the reason for the tow is someone’s inability to pay government fines and fees. Towed vehicles sold at lien sale in San Diego generally accrue over $3,000 in fees and fines, but the average sale price for these vehicles is about $565. When governments target people of color and low-income people for minor violations, when they fund their programs by charging unreasonable fines and fees for these minor violations, and when they punish people because they can’t afford to pay, it is unconstitutional, unfair, and ultimately, counterproductive.” (source: https://wclp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TowedIntoDebt.Report.pdf)
Additionally, this ordinance ignores many of the recommendations of the Community Advisory on Homelessness Council (linked in the agenda packet) including this vital piece:
“Of paramount importance, the City must maintain connection with State, County and regional stakeholders, especially the homeless community, on policy considerations and ensure community engagement remains a top priority.”
This ordinance is unresearched, counterproductive, and unacceptable.
Alternative Emergency Response Models
Police and prisons have become the default responders for a wide range of social health issues from mental illness to substance abuse to homelessness. We work toward developing systems of care that addresses these issues instead of criminalizing them.
The incredible harm that this system causes is highlighted by the disproportionate numbers of people suffering from mental illness who are killed by police every year or are being held in jails (16x more likely than the general population). Police typically kill around 1000 people every year and cause over 50,000 known physical injuries in people 15-35 years old. At disproportionate rates the people murdered and injured are neurodivergent, Black, and Indigenous.
Regardless of the intention or skill of any individual member of a police force, the mere presence of a cop can exacerbate feelings of distress and escalate mental health related situations, particularly for those who find themselves at multiple intersections of marginalized groups, many of whom have a long history of terror campaigns waged on their communities by police departments.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when coming up with solutions that help us shift away from police led crisis response. There are many existing examples of community based, health centered responses that lead to better outcomes for people with behavioral health issues, a few of the most popular and well supported are bystander intervention and alternative emergency response systems like Cahoots or Mental Health First Oakland.
Bystander Intervention can be used as a harm prevention strategy that empowers community members to intervene when they see something concerning instead of calling in armed officials whose main goal is community punishment, not community care. Maya Kingsley of BYP100 reminds us that in developing intervention skills, “we are able to address crises while keeping ourselves and each other safe, and avoiding any contact with the police.”
If our best attempts at bystander intervention have failed, or for whatever reason we are not comfortable intervening ourselves, having an emergency number to call that will not bring the police is imperative in prioritizing the safety of our community. Cahoots diverts calls made to police departments for issues related to mental health, safety checks, drug use, and homelessness to a team of unarmed outreach workers and medics who are trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation. Mental Health First Oakland uses volunteers, some who are healthcare workers, but many who aren’t, to operate a hotline for anyone experiencing mental health crises. Volunteers help form a safety plan, and connect people with appropriate resources.
We’re happy to say, there is much more information on alternative models to mass policing that involve creating real solutions to social health issues. We advocate that our resources be invested in these practical solutions rather than dumped into failed practices that uphold the status quo.
We support the development of a housing pipeline that can meet people where they’re at. We know the unhoused community is not a monolithic entity and so a one-size fits all solution is unrealistic. We need housing options in the short and long term. To this end, we support a housing spectrum that includes transitional encampments, management encampments, transitional housing, safe sleeping spaces, year-long shelters, vacant hotel rooms, supportive housing and low-income housing.
We also know that merely having the option of housing is not the same as being able to access that housing. Therefore, when we consider these housing services, we support a more representative variety of low to high barrier options. For instance, we subscribe to the rule of thumb known as the 3 P’s. This rule states that unhoused people should be able to bring their pets, partners and possessions with them. Without such flexibility, a substantive burden is placed on them that we cannot, as a community, demand they overcome it in order to simply access a basic need such as shelter.
Taken together, it is our wish to see unhoused community members enter this pipeline easily and move toward the most stable form of safe housing possible.
The Harm Reduction Model
We support the harm reduction model because we believe that only public health solutions can solve public health issues. According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, “harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. It is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies that includes safer use, managed use, abstinence, meeting people who use drugs “where they’re at,” and addressing conditions of use along with the use itself”.
Harm reduction acknowledges that all progress toward a healthy lifestyle is valuable. It provides an adaptive support structure that can hold the complexity and diversity of drug use and its causes.The primary goals of harm reduction is to prevent people from dying, supplying equipment and tools to avoid contracting illnesses, and giving people the sense that their lives are important. In our local context, we see that harm reduction not only adds a much needed piece of the substance use spectrum of services, it simply keeps people alive and fights back against our local overdose rate.
Reallocating excessive police funding to social services
Westside Cares opposes policy that criminalizes being unhoused. Instead, we support the reallocation of police funds towards social services that can lift people out of houselessness. Experts widely agree that the more humane and cost effective way to address issues related to homelessness is to redirect funds towards productive and preventive solutions instead of punitive ones.
A 2019 Community Advisory on Homelessness report estimates that SCPD spends 60% of its time and $14.8 million annually responding to issues related to homelessness, a 2019 SCPD report estimates this time to be closer to 80%. This is more than half of its $25.6 million budget for 2021. In a recent city council meeting Andy Mills stated that he would, “use as much overtime as necessary to enforce” the new ordinance. One SCPD officer received $76k in overtime in 2019.
In a 2019 police dept report, an internal survey of officers stated that “80 percent of calls for service are regarding houselessness that we can’t do anything with.” Additionally, in his online blog post written in 2020, Chief Mills reported that a local sergeant said, “If someone could take the homeless issues entirely from us and stop us from responding to mental health calls—please, take the money! [police budget].”
According to a 2020 research report on public policy challenges facing San Diego, criminalization of the unhoused is “catastrophic” and in fact perpetuates houselessness. The presence of police officers in homeless encampments does not indicate support, but rather punitive actions such as sweeps, citations, move along orders, harassment, and arrests, all of which create potential roadblocks to obtaining housing. This long standing mistrust often results in reluctance by the unhoused to accept services offered by police (including emergency shelter and health and safety assistance).
Criminalization and camping bans funnel more money into already bloated police budgets instead of addressing the root causes of homelessness. They start a self perpetuating cycle that will continually inflate police budgets and further degrade the quality of life for people who sleep outside.
Equal access to sanitation and waste management services for people experiencing homelessness
Universal and adequate access to toilets, handwashing stations, showers, laundry, and refuse collection should be a basic human right: they are fundamental to each person’s wellness and to community-wide public health. Frequent and regular refuse collection is essential for people to maintain their living spaces and the surrounding areas, to minimize disease vector populations, and to eliminate a widely-perceived conflict between care for people and care for the environment.
The local government does not provide the necessary sanitation services for unhoused residents. This is, in part, due to the way in which the City defines its service area. Because the funding for waste pick up is based on enterprise funds -- a fund that is created by rate-payers -- those who are not able to pay the rates are not considered deserving customers. As a result, unhoused communities are not able to access equal access to these basic services, oftentimes leading to living conditions that are well below par. Without these services, it is much harder for people to maintain a sense of dignity, to participate to their full ability in the broader community, and to avoid infections and communicable diseases.