San Diego is the first city in the country to create Homeless Courts as a non-punitive form to deal with quality of life laws that target people without homes.
Last month San Diego made the right decision to allow people experiencing homelessness to sleep on public property without the fear of being woken up or moved along by law enforcement. According to Union Tribune, Mayor Jerry Sanders, who in the past opposed creating homeless “free zones,” called it a “fair and equitable solution to a large societal problem.” City Attorney Michael Aguirre said San Diego has taken “the leadership in the state of California” on homeless sleeping issues.
San Diego's decision to allow people to sleep was based on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled in favor of six homeless persons challenging Los Angeles’ sit-lie law may have a bigger impact on quality of life laws targeting homeless people than first thought.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged the city's practice of arresting persons for violating a municipal ordinance, which says that "no person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or public way."
The court ruled it was illegal to prohibit people from sleeping on sidewalks because the city did not have enough shelter space. The case is under appeal, and LA police continue to enforce the law in a town that has an estimated 90,000 people living on the streets.
Today's Portland Mercury has a balanced look at the sit-lie ordinance debacle in Portland. Oregon American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Legislative Director Andrea Meyer—a member of the SAFE Committee—is still opposed to the ordinance. She says, "I'm very pleased that other folks are beginning to speak out about this," she says. "Certainly we would hope that council would not only take their concerns into consideration, but also consider the ACLU's concerns and consider a different approach."
The article also quotes my director’s desk on Rocket Poetry saying Street Roots thinks the city should scrap the up and coming ordinance and start anew.
I think it's fair to say it's time Portland looked at out of the box philosophies when dealing with laws that target homeless people. It's getting harder and harder for cities to defend the practice of not allowing people to sleep and rest on public property when thousands of people remain homeless after shelters beds are full.
My question is why in a liberal city like Portland can't we find alternatives that are innovative and humane when working with people on the streets?