The homeless population in San Luis Obispo is growing There had been between 300 and 325 homeless men, women and children in the city, but now the number is probably around 400.
The economy of this city is centered around two things: Cal Poly University and tourism. With the scholastic year coming to an end tourism will become the economic mainstay of this community, so it’s perfectly understandable that the city wants to reduce the visibility of the homeless as much as possible.
Because of the limited number of beds available to house the homeless, roughly 75% are forced to sleep out of doors every night. Those who have been homeless longest forego even trying to get a bed at the shelter – knowing that the most recent additions to the homeless community are guaranteed a bed for at least their first 30 days.
As a result, the "resident" homeless have set up their "camps" at various locations around the city.
These locations are well known to the Park Rangers and the Police, who lately have been raiding these camps with greater frequency. The reasons given range anywhere from creating a nuisance to someone filing a complaint to being a health hazard to being under the influence to you name it.
The true underlying reason for these raids (although not the "official" reason) is to cull the homeless population in and around the city limits – especially now that the tourist season is upon us.
One such raid took place this past Wednesday morning – even as the Homeless Services Coordination Committee was having its monthly meeting.
The police, aided by a local gardening company, went through a number of known homeless camps and "confiscated" tents and other personal belongings. Whether these belongings were stored or disposed of, I don’t really know. I tend to think that they were just carted off to the local landfill.
Two days later, on Friday, another camp was gone through. This time however, personal property wasn’t confiscated and disposed of – it was trashed and the camp left is disarray.
My primary concern at this point, is that my camp may be next on the list. I’m worried that I’ll return "home" one evening and find that my personal property – meager though it may be – will have been either removed or destroyed which, in either case will make me even more homeless.
Several months ago, while doing some research on homelessness, I came across some information regarding a number of recent court rulings here within the State of California.
The police department in one of our states cities had been engaging in the same practices that the police in this community are currently engaged in with regard to the homeless.
To sum it all up –
The court ruled in favor of the homeless and place an injunction against both that city and it’s police department. It found that the city police had violated the Constitutional rights of the homeless.
The ruling prohibited that city from confiscating and disposing of personal property and belongings of the homeless without adequate notice; it prohibited the city from immediately displacing he homeless without providing an alternative place for the homeless to re-locate to; and it furthermore prohibited the police from issuing citations to any of the homeless who were caught sleeping in public areas on night when the homeless shelters were filled to capacity.
The city appealed the courts ruling, but the higher courts upheld the lower courts decisions and that set a legal precedent.
So, where will I go if indeed my camp is next on the list? I honestly don’t know.
But, I do know what I will do. I will contact both the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the ACLU, seeking their council and aid in locating an attorney willing to represent me, and I will file criminal and civil suits against both the city and the police department.
It will undoubtedly be a long drawn out process, and it will be and uphill battle all the way but, based on current court rulings, it is a near certainty that I will win in the end.
Still, the prospect of a potential win won’t provide any consolation in the here and now.