Friday, March 11, 2011

New Law Allows San Diego Police To Ticket Homeless For "Illegal Lodging"

Thursday Feb 10, 7:19 pm ET

SAN DIEGO -- Early Tuesday, a federal judge handed down a modification on the state of lodging for homeless in San Diego. Until the modification on the 2007 lawsuit against the San Diego Police Department, police were not able to ticket homeless for just being homeless. Illegal lodging is now a ticketable offense if a person is caught sleeping on the streets if there is an open bed available in one of the shelters in the area from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.

The original 2007 lawsuit, brought on the behalf of nine homeless individuals, declared it unconstitutional to bring charges against a person for sleeping in a public space if there is no space available in the homeless shelters in the San Diego area. Currently, there is not an adequate amount of beds to house the estimated 4,600 homeless in the city limits of San Diego. The current modification is "clear strategic plan" to end homelessness in San Diego, according to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

San Diego Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long said in a press conference under the new modification that there would be five beds available at three of the San Diego Shelters -- City of Refuge, The Rescue Mission, and Rachel's Woman's Center. This makes the nightly beginning total 15 available beds for the 4,600 homeless living on San Diego's streets. City officials have reported the number to be much less at around 1,000.

Goldsmith stated in a press conference that the modification on illegal lodging will "be good for downtown, the tax payers and the homeless," in San Diego. City Councilman Kevin Faulconer stated at the press conference "We want to give people the help and services they need." Not everyone agrees.

Kelly McCuthison who has been homeless for six months disagrees. "You can't force me to go to a shelter just because you feel that it is what I need. Have you seen one of those places? They are filthy and full of disease. Plus I will not ever be able afford the fines;" McCuthison said. Others are no to concerned due to the lack of adequate beds available.

"I am not too worried about it. In order to get a ticket, there has to be an open bed in a shelter. There is hardly ever an open bed," Dr. Teresa Smith of Dreams of Change, a non-profit organization that provides a safe parking lot for homeless living in their vehicles, said. The only way San Diego Police can issue a misdemeanor ticket for illegal lodging is if there are beds available and the individual turns down the bed.

San Diego is considering placement for a homeless shelter in the downtown area that would supply 220 additional beds. There is some concern that San Diego Police will ticket the homeless without providing alternatives to their situation. Currently, the San Diego Police department is implementing training for their department on how to properly asses the homeless situation and provide services for the portion of the homeless who are unaware of available services.

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