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Friday, April 15, 2011

Tackling San Diego's Homeless Situation

A new settlement gives the SDPD the ability to ticket people for sleeping on the street.
After a three-year legal battle with homeless advocates, the San Diego Police Department is now able to step up efforts to reduce the problem of people sleeping on the streets.

2007 saw a lawsuit against the city by homeless advocates who didn't feel it was fair for the homeless to be ticketed when they had nowhere to go. For three years, the SDPD was not allowed to issue citations to the homeless between 9 p.m and 5:30 a.m.

A settlement was reached in the lawsuit in Feb. which would allow the SDPD to enforce the illegal lodging laws, but there is one stipulation: the police can only cite a violator if there are no beds available at shelters, or if the person contacted refuses help.

In a Feb. press conference, city Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the law will help to not only to clean up the streets, but it will help people who are in desperate need of treatment.

According to Sergeant Rick Schnell, who heads up the Homeless Outreach Team of the SDPD, there have only been a few cases of persons being cited for refusing help.

Anyone who has visited the downtown area can see the problem for themselves; scores of homeless are camped out along sidewalks and in parks, causing concerns for residents and business owners.

Visitors to San Diego have also taken note of the problem. In a February letter to the editor in the San Diego Union-Tribune, a tourist from Auckland, New Zealand wrote a fairly scathing account of his experience in seeing the number of people sleeping on the streets.

"Where am I supposed to go?" exclaimed Ralph Horstman. "Great, they can force me out, but I have nowhere to go." Horstman, a 62-year-old-homeless veteran of the Vietnam War, moves from place to place to avoid scrutiny from the police.

According to Sgt. Schnell, the SDPD does not target the homeless, and usually will only contact them when there are complaints from residents or business owners.

Bob McElroy, chairman and CEO of the homeless advocacy group the Alpha Project, feels that the law puts a burden on police officers. "It's not the cop's job," he said.

What the city really needs to do is build some new shelters," said Schnell. "That's what's going to help the situation."

 The city is currently trying to get a permanent shelter built which would have 220 beds.

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