Authorities Can Not Force the Homeless Off the Street

While the act of being homeless itself is not an official crime, many cities have begun dealing with the issue of homelessness by way of “neutral” laws that criminalize the poor or discourage them from camping out on city streets. Over the past several years San Diego has been no stranger to the controversy as exploding rents, unaffordable housing, and a lack of resources have pushed more and more people out into the streets. With the near-perfect weather and laid back West Coast lifestyle, the city draws thousands of homeless people per year.

San Diego does not know what to do with the influx of people and homeless encampments. In Sherman Heights and Logan Heights for example, some locals have praised the installation of jagged rocks under the Sherman Heights underpass to discourage people from sleeping and camping out there. Others feel that the blame should be on officials and their lack of political will to provide low-income and homeless housing in an effort to solve a problem that is not going away.

So, what is the city doing? Homelessness itself may not be a crime, but common elements of homelessness can be.

Laws Affecting the Homeless and Everyone Else

Under nuisance law, anyone can be cited for encroachment, which means a person has set his or her belongings on a sidewalk, alley, or other public property. This is meant to keep folks from blocking public walkways. See San Diego Munic. Code § 54.0110.

Illegal camping/lodging is another charge police may use to discourage homeless people from camping out in a certain neighborhood. However, because of a 2007 legal settlement, police must be able to offer an open bed to a person they encounter on the street between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. before they can cite or arrest someone for illegal lodging. See Greg Spencer v. City of San Diego. If the homeless shelters are full, police cannot issue tickets. As a result, most of the enforcement occurs during the daytime.

It is reported, however, that police rarely target tent encampments, and only those that are in front of a business, or if there is a complaint made by another citizen. However, advocates for the homeless note that there has been a rise in citations. Illegal lodging/camping tickets are misdemeanors that are punishable by six months in prison or a $1,000 fine. This is significant for someone already down on their luck who may be looking for a job or housing opportunities.  Sometimes, the courts can order someone to stay away from a certain area as part of a plea agreement. This has been more effective than police enforcement.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje has handled all types of Misdemeanor and Felony criminal cases in San Diego County. Do not try to fight criminal charges alone. We have successfully represented many defendants, including those cited for public urination and unlawful camping.  If you have been charged with any crime, contact attorney David Boertje today. Consultations are free and confidential.