Q: For the past three weeks I have noticed a car parked on my block and there is someone sleeping in it overnight. During the day, the owner leaves the car parked on the street and returns to it in the evening. I have walked by the car several times and I can see a sleeping bag, clothing and food in the car. The car has been parked in the same place for three weeks and only moves when the street sweeper comes by. I think this person may be living in his car; is this illegal in Santa Monica?

I’ve heard there was a “camping law” in Santa Monica but what exactly constitutes camping? Is there a difference between someone camping in a vehicle versus someone camping on the beach or in the park? How does the Santa Monica Police Department handle this issue?

A: Unfortunately, many cities across the country have seen an increase in individuals (and sometimes families) that have recently lost their homes due to financial reasons. Many people have been sleeping in their vehicles while parked in public lots or on the street in certain areas. The Santa Monica Police Department looks at a call like this as an opportunity for outreach, and would more than likely seek to first find out if the person in the car could benefit from resources to help him/her get into a shelter. We actually have a unit of six officers and a sergeant who work the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Unit who dedicate themselves to working with city staff and other service providers to help the homeless get much-needed resources. They can be reached at (310) 458-8953.

Your questions deal with several different laws here in Santa Monica. First, City Hall has an ordinance that prohibits camping in public places.

Santa Monica Municipal Code 4.08.095 states:

1. No person shall camp in a prohibited public place.

2. For the purpose of this Section:

1. “Camp” means to erect, maintain or occupy a camp facility for the purpose of living accommodations.

2. “Camp Facility” means one or more of the following: tents, huts, other temporary physical shelters, cots, beds, sleeping bags, hammocks or bedrolls.

3. “Prohibited public place” means any of the following: the public parks listed in Section 4.08.091*, public beaches, the Santa Monica Municipal Pier, public streets, public alleyways, public parking lots, public passageways, public rights-of-way, publicly-owned landscaped areas or greenbelts, public educational institutions including properties owned by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District or Santa Monica College, or other government-owned properties located within Santa Monica.

Now let’s look at what you are experiencing on your block.

For the example you gave, the person may be in violation of the camping ordinance. An officer can be called to make that determination, and also can use that opportunity to refer the person to resources that can assist him or her with their particular situation.

Now, not everybody sleeping in a vehicle is in violation of the camping ordinance. There may be some instances where a person may become stranded (due to mechanical issues) or may be too tired to drive and may pull over to get some rest before continuing on their drive. When an officer responds to a citizen complaint of camping or observes what he/she may be someone camping, the officer takes the totality of the circumstances in account when enforcing the camping ordinance.

There is another issue that has to be considered in this example — a vehicle that is parked or left standing on a public street for more than 72 or more consecutive hours may be impounded. California Vehicle Code 22651(k) states:

“When a vehicle is parked or left standing upon a highway for 72 or more consecutive hours in violation of a local ordinance authorizing removal.”

The Santa Monica Municipal Code 3.12.990 states:

“Any vehicle which had been parked or left standing on any street, alley or public way for a period longer than 72 consecutive hours may be removed.”

In this case where the car only moves on days of street sweeping, there is another ordinance to possibly enforce as well.

If you have someone in your neighborhood who you believe may be in violation of the camping ordinance, give the SMPD a call at (310) 458-8491. The Santa Monica Police Department not only enforces the ordinance (advise, cite or arrest when necessary), but officers also work with other agencies to connect people with various programs and services when available. The SMPD has teamed up with St. Joseph’s Center, West Coast Care, OPCC and the CLARE Foundation to connect individuals with services and shelters to assist them in getting back on track to healthier, more productive lives.

*Public parks listed in Section 4.08.091 are:

Ashland Park, Beach Park 1, Beach Park 4 (Lifeguard Headquarters), Clover Park, Crescent Bay Park, Douglas Park, Hotchkiss Park, Joslyn Park, Christine Emerson Reed Park, Los Amigos Park, Marine Park, Memorial Park, Ocean View Park, Ozone Park, Pacific Street Park, Palisades Park, Park Drive Park, Schader Park, Stewart Park and Virginia Park.

This column was prepared by NRO Artis Williams, (Beat 7, Sunset Park Neighborhood). He can be reached at (424) 200-0687 or artis.williams@smgov.net.