Editor’s note: This is the third segment of a recent lengthy discussion with Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore by the Triplicate Editorial Board, Publisher Kimberly Fowler and Editor Robin Fornoff. More segments will be published in coming days.
Let’s talk about something that’s a little more topical… and that’s the Ninth Circuit Court ruling on where homeless people can sleep and the camping that has been going on in the parks. What’s the city doing about this? What’s your plan?
We took it up… and our City Attorney Martha Rice brought us some ideas, options considerations, regarding amending or adjusting our ordinances regarding this. Because the Ninth Circuit Court ruling does not state that you can sleep anywhere on public ground anytime you want to. What in essence it says is that you can’t criminalize a person for resting if there is no shelter available to that individual.
So, we have no camping or no night use at Beachfront Park. We have that in place. But having only that in place then, if you have a person who is in fact homeless at night, you can’t enforce that for that person because of this ruling.
The question then has been, well, what about the next day when they’re still there? And the day after that, and the day after that?
The question is then, do we need to establish ordinances that address the idea of camping in Beachfront Park as a general rule. In other words, can you erect a tent or park a vehicle with the idea that this is purposely to set up a camp or to stay and we can address those things during the day.
It’s not just a homeless issue and Beachfront Park. It’s a public property issue and the idea that people can use Beachfront Park to camp for free doesn’t seem right.
I don’t want to criminalize homeless people for resting in Beachfront Park at night if they have no place else to go. But the idea that people can come in and set up and make it… turn it into a campground. We have a campground. The city has campgrounds right across the creek and we have tent sites over there and everybody over there pays to use it. I don’t think people should be able to be camping free in Beachfront Park.
But we cannot enforce those things without readjusting our ordinances regarding camping and addressing that during the day. So that we have enforcement that says, listen, you are able, according to the Ninth Circuit Court ruling, to rest here overnight. But setting up a fire pit and setting up your tent and hanging out your clothes to dry, that’s not resting. That’s camping. I think that then it becomes an enforcement issue, which is a challenge.
What’s the process of changing an ordinance like that?
It requires a first and second reading. So that’s two meetings and then 30 days for it to be enacted. If our attorney has something back to us, and we’re also talking about the RVs and the parking...we’ve got a lot of people who are camping on our city streets. They’re camping on Front Street, or parking, and they know that they can sit someplace for 72 hours. And so they sit there for 72 hours and they move up 20 feet of establishing that.
Let me play devil’s advocate here for just a second. You said that there’s no shelter available for them. They’re allowed to do this. There is a shelter.
It’s based on the percentage of beds that are available.
I don’t know what the actual numbers are. But the interesting thing is Our Daily Bread operates on a temporary or emergency permit, not as a permanent shelter. But last time I heard from people who work there, they weren’t even full, even when they were open. That there was room for somebody to sleep there if people had shown up.
Which puts us sort of at a quandary. It’s like, OK, if there is a place available for these individuals who don’t have a home and they don’t avail themselves to what is available, even if it’s not the numbers that the Ninth Circuit Court says we should have, then is it really fair that we should have to say, well, then you can use the public park for this. Are they staying in the public park because there is no shelter or are they staying in the public park because they like being at the beach?
And, again, I don’t want to to try to quantify why somebody does something. But that’s the world that we’re having to operate in right now. That’s why I think we need to establish guidelines as tight as we can while respecting what the courts have said.
What resources, other resources, are you using to develop guidelines? Is it what other people are doing in other parts of the country?
Our city attorney has looked at what other municipalities in the western half of the United States are doing in response to this and looking at their ordinances and what they have crafted in response to this to try to answer these questions. We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel here. Obviously, there are other municipalities who have a lot more resources to do that investigation than we do.
That’s part of the process of trying to figure out what are other people doing and are those things being challenged.
Because I don’t want to spend a whole bunch of time and money crafting an ordinance that’s going to get challenged, get thrown out.
I know that we have a lot of people who are going to challenge what we do here. I think as a general rule, most of the people here simply want a good consistent apportionment of what to do. There are certainly people who are very passionate about the fact that they don’t want homeless people in Beachfront Park. And I hear that and I understand that. But until we have a clear process to address that, I’m not going to go down and just roust people out arbitrarily. Though we can ask them to move along during the day, you know. So it’s an interesting time of trying to figure out how to manage that.
I thought the weather would change that, honestly. And I don’t mean this to be flippant. I really thought as it got wetter and colder and winter weather that there would be people who would be less likely to have any interest in being down there because it’s cold and wet and windy down there in Beachfront Park. And that may still be the case. I thought some of that would give us some time to address some of these things. Not that that’s a way to not have to deal with it. I just felt like that may encourage people to look to the shelter, look to Our Daily Bread as a better alternative.
I think we do still need to find ways to work with Our Daily Bread to see how that can become a regular permanent shelter.
Does the city have any options to do that?
Our Daily Bread is not in the city limits and obviously, we don’t have the resources to run a shelter. The county has a Health and Human Services budget of $20 million. The city has a Health and Human Services budget of zero.
So we don’t, the city doesn’t provide services from that standpoint. And I know Health and Human Services provides lots and lots of services to lots and lots of people in this community. But it’s not something that the city can do.
Even with them talking about the No Place Like Home legislation with Senator (Mike) McGuire...and the technical assistance grant that the county has right now. Even though the city is at the table trying to talk about how do we use this money to help address this need, all that money has got to go through the county.
We can come to the table to say here, we’re going to support this. We want to encourage this. Here’s our ideas. But the county has got to run point on all of those things.
And No Place Like Home is a very small component. It’s for those who are chronically mentally ill, chronically homeless. Dual diagnosis mental illness. And when they did the Point-in-Time study right after No Place Like Home (funding) was released, that ended up being about 37 people who would qualify. Out of which I think that the most recent Point-in-Time study said that around 300 (are homeless). So, there’s only about 10 percent of what would be the identified homeless population that would even fit into that criteria.
And while there’s $500,000 that will be made available without it being based on being a competitive grant application, that’s for brick and mortar. That’s to build something.
What do you build for $500,000? I mean, you may be able to remodel something but then you still have to have a establish some kind of revenue stream that’s going to provide some support services. Because that’s part of the requirement of getting this funding is that you have got to show that they’re attached to services.
Government is really hard sometimes to find ways. People say, well, you got $500,000, just put them all up in hotel rooms or give them this and that. That’s not what that money’s allocated for and we can’t use it for that.
So it doesn’t address the transient issue?
It doesn’t. No Place Like Home doesn’t address transient people. That’s for permanent homeless people, chronically homeless people in our community and those are two different things. They really are. They’re two different things.
On a success side, we were able to bring in HUD-VASH, which are veterans vouchers. I believe that 11 of those have been filled...11 homeless veterans are now in some kind of permanent housing and they’re working really hard to get the other ones filled.
I talked to Aaron Goodwin our veteran services officer. He flat out told me there is no reason why there should be any veteran who doesn’t have a roof over their head tonight. If you could show me who they were, bring them to me. There are resources available to make sure that veterans are... don’t have to sleep out in the cold.
I don’t know that most people realize that. I think that becomes a really easy topic to throw out there. It’s like well, you know, we don’t care about our veterans. Well, we do care about our veterans. Well, we have done some good things I think to provide for that.
But like anything else, you can’t help people who can do not avail themselves the resources that you allocate.