Northern California Record

Saturday, April 4, 2020

As federal court upholds right to sleep on sidewalks, new poll shows increased concern with homeless population

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By Rich Peters | Jan 2, 2020


SAN FRANCISCO – A lawsuit out of the state of Idaho regarding the way cities across the country can enforce sleeping in public will not be heard by the Supreme Court, opening up more questions and concerns for dealing with the homeless population.

The court shot down the hearing of an appeal to the 2009 case of Martin v. City of Boise in which six homeless individuals took on the city’s ability to issue fines for violating local anti-camping ordinances. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “cities can’t arrest or punish people for sleeping on public property unless they provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.”

This ruling poses issues for California cities such as Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, whose homeless population runs rampant and shelter space is limited. Despite the ruling deeming the criminalization of homelessness as unconstitutional, the courts cannot force cities to build and provide housing shelters.

So far, Los Angeles and more than a dozen other cities across the West have filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to rule on the case.

The California Chamber of Commerce recently polled state voters on a number of hot issues facing the state in its fifth annual People’s Voice survey. Homelessness and the cost of living were among the top concerns.

“Reports of steady growth and low unemployment cheer political leaders, but voters are disturbed by decaying public order and an unaffordable cost of living,” according to the October CalChamber poll.

“Central to that perception is homelessness. Fully half of voters say they see homeless people on the street more than five times a week. Three out of four voters say homelessness has gotten worse in California, and their perception is not much better in their own communities, where 64% of voters say homelessness has gotten worse.”

The poll also says that Californians are now putting the responsibility of solving the homelessness problem on state officials over local officials, by a 62% – 38% margin. As far as proposed solutions, voters indicated a mix of “compassion and no-nonsense.”

According to the poll, voters most strongly supported funding more mental health and homeless service centers specifically focused on serving homeless populations and involuntary commitment of homeless individuals who have severe mental/behavioral issues that may be a danger or harm to themselves or others in the community.

However, there was strong support for both the building of more homeless shelters (86% support; 50% strong support) and allowing law enforcement to arrest homeless people who use dangerous and illegal drugs (82% support; 49% strong support), further complicating the issue of housing v. enforcement.

“Another take on public order is growing unease over public safety,” according to the poll. “Seventy-nine percent agree (41% strongly) that homelessness and criminal behavior have become rampant throughout California. Seventy-three percent agree (37% strongly) that street crime, shoplifting and car theft have become rampant throughout California. And 60% agree (25% strongly) with the statement, ‘I no longer feel safe because of the danger and disorder in society today.’”

You can read the rest of the CalChamber’s poll results here.

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California Chamber of Commerce