Articles Tagged with homeless in san diego

This week, a homeless San Diego man, Richard Stevenson, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to stay away from where he had pitched a tent on a city street in downtown San Diego earlier this year. He was found guilty of two counts of illegal lodging and encroachment by a 12-person jury. It took a city attorney, police officer, public defender, activist, and a judge to get him a spot in the homeless shelter.

Richard Stevenson’s case highlights the enormous amounts of resources that go into tackling San Diego’s homelessness problem. Stevenson was arrested April 5, at 5:45 a.m, 15 minutes after the city policy allowing people to sleep in public ended. Due to the state’s housing crisis, homelessness is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, with the city criminalizing homelessness with statutes intended to address nuisances and trash, and other seemingly innocuous laws.

San Diego has been sued before for excessive enforcement of the state’s illegal lodging law and now faces another class action for ticketing and arresting people living on the street. According to a 2015 San Diego Police Department training bulletin on illegal lodging, officers are advised to only enforce illegal lodging in areas where they have received complaints.

It has been reported that most people who show up for their court dates plead guilty and are sentenced to probation. Stevenson decided to fight the charges and was represented by a public defender.    

Illegal Lodging

According to a study being released this week by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, 58 California cities have enacted hundreds of new laws since 1990 that target or disproportionately affect homeless people.

CA Penal Code § 647(e) makes if a crime to lodge “in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it.” This can result for having a citation (ticket) issued to you for doing something like sleeping on a park bench or the street, or pitching a tent on public property.

Illegal lodging/camping tickets are misdemeanors that are punishable by six months imprisonment or a $1,000 fine.

Trespass

In some cases, homeless people can be arrested for trespassing, if they unknowingly enter private property (such as a park that may be privately owned by a foundation, or trust). See CA Penal Code § 602. However, if you did not “occupy” the property (i.e. you were just passing through briefly), you have not interfered with the property owner’s property and have a legal defense to the crime of trespass. Continue reading

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.