Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

While police say they will not bother anyone sleeping in a vehicle or camping overnight in public places following a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling last month, city and county officials are looking at how the ruling may affect local ordinances.

The court ruled in September that prosecuting homeless persons for sleeping in public areas violates their constitutional rights.

“We consider whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment bars a city from prosecuting people criminally for sleeping outside on public property when those people have no home or other shelter to go to,” the court summary reads. “We conclude that it does.”

In the first paragraph of the summary, it specifically alluded to the Eighth Amendment.

“The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in an action brought by six current or formerly homeless City of Boise residents who alleged that their citations under the City’s Camping and Disorderly Conduct Ordinances violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

The same rights

Crescent City Police Chief Ivan Minsal has gone on record several times in recent months to say homeless persons have the same rights as any American.

“They’re still people of the United States, they still have Constitutional rights,” Minsal told a group of citizens and members of the recently created Homeless Local Organizing Committee earlier this month. “They have a right to be wherever you have a right to be and it’s important for the information to get out. You can’t call the police because you think they are creepy looking or something like that. Suspicious activity is well-defined. Until we respect them for who they are, as human beings in our country... we can’t move forward.”

Minsal said people sleeping in cars and public places will not be bothered by officers if they are complying with all other laws.

A shift

By phone Friday, Minsal said many homeless are aware of the court’s ruling and officers have seen a shift in populations from areas where they are not typically seen. Recently, an increase in tents, campfires, and people has become noticeable at the west end of Beachfront Park near the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

“At the same time, we’ve seen a greater amount of cooperation and understanding,” Minsal said, adding some have agreed to keep their areas clean and abide by other laws.

Minsal said the ruling only applies to sleeping and camping.

“The court ruled that sleeping is just part of being human,” he said, “but there are a lot of other things at play here. Other things are still illegal, like public drinking, littering, storage of belongings in public places and so on. We’ve explained to those individuals what has changed and we’ve had a lot of cooperation, but we do see some who have mental health issues as well.”

Minsal stressed the city and police want to assure everyone can use the park, free of fear or intimidation.

“We do have some challenges to meet in order to make everyone comfortable,” he said. “The police department has become the lead agency on this and we will work through it to ensure everyone’s safety and civil rights.”

Minsal said he has directed extra patrol to areas where camping is taking place, to protect the rights of all who use the park.

He urged residents with any issues to call the police non-emergency line 707-464-2133 or 911 for emergencies.

In discussions

County CAO Jay Sarina said city and county officials have been discussing the court’s ruling and how local ordinances may have to be adjusted.

“Internally, we’re discussing any interpretations of the ruling,” Sarina said, adding officials are conferring with legal staff about the potential impacts on county properties, paid camping areas and local RV parks.

Sarina said trash and human waste become a sanitary problem for the county when people camp in areas where there are no trash or restroom services available.

“That’s really been one of our biggest problems,” Sarina said.

He said code enforcement may still get involved when camping creates a public nuisance or health hazard. Sarina said code enforcement officers will be involved in future discussions.

However, he said there have not been a lot of citations issued in the past for such activities.

“But there’s always the potential for conflicts,” Sarina said, estimating any amendments to local ordinances would create little or no change in the way officers currently deal with overnight campers in public areas.

“We still have a lot of questions,” Sarina said.

City Manager Eric Wier said the city is “in the same boat,” when it comes to reviewing its ordinances in the face of the court ruling.

“We’re just working with legal staff to make sure we’re in compliance with the ruling,” Wier said. “When we determine what needs to be changed, we will bring it back to the council for consideration.”

Wier commended Minsal and his department for their handling of issues since the ruling, saying “what I’ve witnessed is them protecting everyone’s rights and treating everyone equally.”

Sheriff Erik Apperson could not be reached as of press time.

Shelter, showers

While the cold weather shelter at Our Daily Bread is not set to open until Nov. 1, two local churches have come together to provide hot showers for those in need.

United Methodist Pastor Dana Gill Port said St. Paul’s Episcopal Church offers up to 12 showers a day. The church also assists with some clothing items, soaps, and some food. She said the program has been going for a few weeks and rain kept attendance low, but about five people have availed themselves of the offer.

For more information, call United Methodist at 707-464 3710 or St. Paul’s Episcopal at 707-464-2708.