For nine years I have met with homeless people at the Ken Edwards Community Center on every first, third and fifth Wednesday of each month at our Side By Side meeting. Side By Side is a homeless discussion and advocacy group where homeless and non-homeless people address homeless issues and get information from others about services. During that time I have been a H.O.P.E. volunteer bringing supplies and food to OPCC for H.O.P.E.’s two hot meals every week. So for years I have worked with Santa Monica’s homeless citizens and I have personally gotten to know many homeless people and their problems.
I know a women in her 60s that had her face beaten black and blue one night when a homeless predator tried to rob her of her possessions. I will never forget the story of a woman who was raped in a public parking lot bathroom at night. And I will never forget the story of another woman in her late 40s told us at Side By Side a few years ago. It was in February, the dead cold of winter. She laid a blanket on the floor of a beach restroom to get out of the cold. At around 5 a.m. she was confronted by the Santa Monica police who arrested her for lying down in a restroom and then they added resisting arrest. She did 97 days in county jail for trying to get out of the cold at night. Arresting the poor for lying down in a public space isn’t legal in Los Angeles.
The city of Santa Monica knows that there are more than 500 people sleeping on the ground every night. City Hall also knows approximately all 460 shelter beds are full. City Hall knows there is a severe lack of shelter beds in every city in L.A. County. As the law officially reads, it is clear that the city of Santa Monica, not the police nor the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, make it illegal to sleep or camp on the ground here.
So the question is this: It may be legal to arrest someone for lying down after having spent all day on one’s feet in public without rest or money or food or a shower or clean clothes, but is it constitutional? Being arrested, handcuffed, jailed, tried, convicted and sentenced for being caught lying down is in my opinion unconstitutional. I ask you, should we citizens ignore these kinds of human rights issues here where we live? For the homeless every day is a struggle, every night a nightmare. These anti-homeless laws ignore humane low cost and potentially effective programs that can support homeless existence leading to enabled recovery instead of ignoring and punishing people for being poor in public.
City Hall tells you they have an “Action Plan,” for their “Fair Share” of homeless to provide a “continuum of care.” In reality City Hall has made it illegal to donate food or clothing directly to the homeless, made it illegal for private humanitarian groups to feed large numbers of people in our parks, stopped pickup points here for transportation to the winter shelter, arrested groups of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk in front of OPCC and the beach and parks. None of this has worked to reduce homelessness.
City Hall’s only stated plan to deal with this human catastrophe is permanent housing. But for the last 10 years the number of shelter beds is unchanged. Instead the City Hall-sponsored Step Up on 5th, a 46-bed permanent housing facility that reportedly cost $17.1 million. That’s $370,000 for one person, forever. Ironically when Step Up on 5th opened with 46 beds, OPCC’s Samoshel cut its beds from 110 to 70. In other words add 46 permanent housing beds and take away 40 group shelter beds. At this cost and at this pace permanent housing is just a pipe dream City Hall wants its citizens to believe will “end” homelessness.
S.H.E.L.T.E.R.’s Safe Organized Overnight Shelter with Caseworker Support plan to protect and provide safe stabilizing private Japanese hotel style sleeping modules with security, sanitary and storage linked to caseworker support for every person willing to be responsible makes possible a humane way to enable people to recover with caseworker support verses being punished, ignored and disrespected. S.H.E.L.T.E.R.’s plan allows cities and counties to purchase these modules directly from any manufacturer of their choice. S.H.E.L.T.E.R.’s roll as a California non-profit charitable organization is to make sure our plan is carried out humanely as stated in our proposal.
It’s time all cities stop uselessly criminalizing the homeless and start supporting homeless existence leading to enabled recovery.
Randy Walburger is a Santa Monica resident and homeless advocate who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.