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Anti-camping ordinances keep communities safe.

Compassion for the homeless is a responsibility we all share. But in the zeal to help, too many have forgotten – or choose to ignore – the negative impact that homeless camps can have on our neighborhoods. Someone needs to also speak up for the community.

I haven’t forgotten, nor will I ignore it. This is why I am pleased that Sacramento County is joining with the city of Boise, Idaho, to support their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a recent court decision that forbids local enforcement of anti-camping ordinances and prevents us from clearing up homeless settlements. I am urging all cities and counties in our region to join with us by doing the same.

In September of last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that local governments cannot cite or arrest anyone for sleeping on public property when adequate shelter beds are unavailable. Because of the decision that was handed down, 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 is contaminating our water and fire hazards in open fields are threatening our homes.

I have heard from some homeless advocates that they believe our anti-camping ordinance was being used to punish homeless people. But we have never used the ordinance to punish homeless people for being homeless. It never has been and never will be the sole focus – even if the Supreme Court appeal is successful. It is, however, one of the tools we need to clean up and protect neighborhoods impacted by homeless camps.

One of the first actions I took when I got elected to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors was to approve a set of four homeless initiatives designed to provide shelter and re-housing services. I did this because I believed then, as I still do now, that to decrease our homeless numbers we need a combination of both “carrot” and “stick.” The “carrot” is our social service programs, such as mental and physical healthcare, addiction treatment, job training and housing. The “stick” is our anti-camping ordinance.

But when our stick was removed by the 9th Circuit last year, it created a situation that actually makes things significantly worse.

Sacramento County, naturally, is hospitable to homeless people. Our weather is wonderful, and we have a world-class parkway that practically begs people to live here. When you add a number of social services to this equation, with no enforcement mechanism for those who refuse the services, you are left with what we have now, which is maddening – and dangerous.

An 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.

Amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court for this case are due in late September. To any city councilmember or county supervisor who is reading this: You still have time to tell your local story to the Supreme Court, and I am pleading with you to do so.

Sue Frost represents the 4th District on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

Paid for by Sue Frost for Supervisor 2020 ID#1380596
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