A Miscarriage Of Justice

Posted: March 9, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Morality, Politics

I’m amazed at how little politicians and bureaucrats actually understand the issue of homelessness.

They make assertions of wanting to help the homeless in their communities and of wanting to remedy the issue, but their actions tell a different story. Case in point –

The City of Santa Barbara, CA. is currently facing a lawsuit in federal court which accuses them of violating the constitutional rights of its homeless citizens. At the heart of it is the annual closure of the Casa Esperanza next month and an ordinance which prohibits sleeping in public places.  

The 100 bed shelter has an operating permit from the city which allows them to be open only during the winter months – December to March.

These types of "seasonal shelters" are commonplace in many locations throughout the U.S., which causes me to question: why the ordinances against sleeping in public? Or don’t politicians realize that if the homeless have no place to sleep indoors, they will inevitably be forced to sleep out of doors? Or, do they expect the homeless to leave town during the months that the shelters do not operate in order to avoid being ticketed for sleeping in public?

But even more absurd are the responses given by city spokespersons when confronted.

In the case of Santa Barbara, City Attorney Steve Wiley said:

"I think the city of Santa Barbara does more for the homeless than any other city in the state."

Marty Blum, the city’s Mayor said:

"The city of Santa Barbara has significant resources for the homeless."

What I find extremely peculiar is that spokespersons for many cities all around the U.S. seem to make similar assertions; they all lay claims to doing so much for their local homeless. This would lead me to ask of Mr. Wiley if he’s taken the time to research and verify the accuracy of his statement. Is his city really head and shoulders above every other California city in their fair treatment of the homeless? Or, is it just another bureaucratic smoke screen to avoid the city having egg on its face?

Moreover, I would have to ask Mayor Blum exactly how significant the resources for the homeless in her city really are. Does her city have such an abundance of available shelter beds that it can afford for Casa Esperanza to be only a seasonal shelter without forcing folks to sleep out of doors? And, if so, why then are the homeless still sleeping out of doors, making it necessary to have an ordinance which bans public sleeping?

To be fair: I can understand the City of Santa Barbara not wanting the homeless sleeping in public places. It is, after all, one of many tourist destinations along California’s central coast. And, tourism dollars are an important part of the city’s overall economy. A high visibility of homeless does have the potential to affect the numbers of tourists who might visit.

Which is why it makes no sense to me whatsoever that the city permits Casa Esperanza to operate as a winter shelter only – especially considering that the summer months are probably when the city gets it highest number of tourists. Closing it down means 100 less beds and 100 more people who will be sleeping on the streets – thereby increasing the numbers of homeless who will be visible to tourists.

And, that’s where Santa Barbara’s "no sleeping in public" ordinance comes in.

For some reason, which defies common sense, politicians have this unrealistic belief that such ordinances will discourage the homeless from sleeping in public. But they never do.

Santa Barbara has had their ordinance in place since 1979. Yet, I’m willing to bet that it’s done nothing to prevent or reduce the numbers of homeless who are forced to sleep in public.

Or maybe the ordinance isn’t so much about preventing the homeless from sleeping in public. Perhaps it is meant to make things all the more difficult for the homeless with the underlying intention of trying to get them to move on to another city.

If Santa Barbara – or any other city for that matter – doesn’t want their local homeless sleeping in public then they need to find realistic solutions for helping them become housed. Until they do, they will continue to have folks sleeping in public places.

What I find a bit lamentable is Mr. Wiley’s defense of Santa Barbara’s ban on sleeping in public. You would think that, as an attorney, he would know better than to support an ordinance which inflicts punitive measures on folks whose "crime" is that they have no place to live; and that he would have a strong desire to see justice prevail.

Punishing folks who sleep out of doors simply because they have no other place to lay their heads is a miscarriage of justice – and a far cry from doing "… more for the homeless than any other city in the state."

  1. Skye says:

    Circular thinking at its worst.

  2. Tom Awtry says:

    I agree with much you have said, but feel the President’s Stimulus package must be enhanced and increased.

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