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GUEST Opinion: Anti-camping ordinances benefit everyone, including the homeless

Homeless camp
Trash left at an apparent camp site in Northwoods Park. // CH Sentinel

Guest opinion by County Supervisor Sue Frost–
We have a moral obligation to be compassionate to one another. That includes not just our family or neighbors, but everyone – including the homeless.

Sue Frost, supervisor
Sue Frost

There are those who, through their efforts to aid the homeless, have created unintended consequences for the very populations they seek to help. We can’t shy away from hard truths in this matter and we need to be able to support solutions that provide the most public good. 

The hard truth here is that the enforcement of anti-camping ordinances benefit our entire community, even the homeless. That is why I am pleased that Sacramento County is joining with the City of Boise to support their Supreme Court appeal of the recent court decision that forbids local enforcement of anti-camping ordinances and prevents us from clearing up homeless settlements. I am also urging all cities and counties in our region to join with us by doing the same.

In September of last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Martin v. Boise that ruled local governments cannot cite or arrest anyone for sleeping on public property when adequate shelter beds are unavailable. Because of that ruling, Sacramento County Park Rangers stopped enforcing our anti-camping ordinance, and, as we all have seen, the problems associated with homelessness have increasingly spiraled out of control.

Aggressive panhandlers are chasing customers from businesses, used needles are being discarded in our parks, human feces are contaminating our water, and fire hazards in open fields are threatening our homes.

One of the first actions I took when I got elected to the Board of Supervisors was to approve a set of four homeless initiatives designed to provide shelter and re-housing services. This was in line with the approach that many of my constituents indicated was the best way to go about the homeless crisis, balanced between compassion with toughness.

Our social service programs — such as mental/physical health care, addiction treatment, job training, and housing — provided a compassionate approach. The anti-camping ordinance allows us to be a little tough.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court stripped our ability to be a little tough and we were left with fewer ways to push people toward services, making our overall situation much worse.

An imbalance was created because Sacramento County geographically has a lot to offer to those living outside with our warm weather and acres upon acres of beautiful parkway to camp in. That hospitable environment is then combined with government services and efforts by nonprofits, so without the ability to be tough and enforce the anti-camping ordinance, there is no real incentive for those living in the parks to stop and that creates a dangerous environment. 

The anti-camping ordinance has always been a positive tool. It helps keep our parks and other public areas for everyone to benefit from and enjoy. Homeless advocates have accused of using it as a punishment, a way of depriving homeless individuals of their rights. That has never been true, and, if the appeal is successful, that will remain to be the case.

The ability to enforce the ordinance better enables us to connect the homeless to medical treatment, mental health and drug treatment and even job training. Through the ordinance, we are better serving our community as a whole. 

The official homeless count found 5,570 homeless people living in our county in 2019, which is a shocking increase from 3,665 in 2017. I have confidence that if our anti-camping ordinance continues to get restricted, this number will continue to skyrocket when the next count is done in 2021, regardless of how many services we add or how many millions we spend.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights.  She can be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.

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