CRITICS ASK WHY HOMELESS ARE TREATED LIKE CRIMINALS INSTEAD OF RECEIVING HELP
November 21, 2009 (Lakeside) The Santee COPPS Unit, Santee Sheriff Crime Prevention and 50 community service workers provided through Cal-Trans started a large scale clean up of transient encampments in open space southeast of Old Highway 80 and Pecan Park Drive in Lakeside on November 12th. Prior to the clean up, approximately 15 arrests had been made on and around the property.
Also present was Wayne George, representative for South Coast Development, owner of the property. All areas on the property to be cleaned had been marked prior to the start of the clean up. Within three hours, all three 40 yard dumpsters were filled to capacity with trash, furniture, old appliances, etc. Local Lakeside Business owners provided heavy equipment to move larger bulkier items to the dumpsters, this piece of equipment saved hours off the clean up. Cal-Trans originally offered 25 workers for the clean up.
They showed up with 50 workers. This also shortened the amount of time on the clean up.
“This clearly showed the need for enforcement action in the area,” a Sheriff’s Department press release stated. “This area had not been checked for many years and now that the area has been cleaned, it will only require preventative maintenance to keep it at an acceptable level. This clean up was another perfect example of the Sheriff's Department working with other agencies, such as Cal-Trans, Lakeside Fire Department and South Coast Development to fix a problem in the community.”
But some advocates for the homeless question why encampments for the homeless are being shut down and homeless people treated like criminals when no shelter for the homeless has been established in East County during the winter months.
A report titled "Homes, not Handcuffs" by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless chronicles a trend among U.S. cities toward criminalizing homelessness. That report notes that in February 2007, the city of San Diego settled a lawsuit filed by a number of homeless plaintiffs challenging enforcement of a California illegal lodging statute in San Diego, which had been issuing tickets to people sleeping in public places. The settlement gave anyone without a place to sleep permission to do so on public property between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. But a lawyer representing the homeless plaintiffs said that the “real solution is more shelter beds to get the 9,600 homeless off the streets,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Yet San Diego City Councilmembers in recent months failed to respond to Mayor Sanders' request for suggested locations for homeless shelters in their council districts.
In another lawsuit, the city entered into a settlement with Pacific Beach United Methodist Church in April 2008 by allowing the church to continue sharing food with homeless people without the threat of fines or citations.
In summer of 2008, several homeless camps in Spring Valley were approached by sheriff’s deputies who warned people to either leave or be arrested. At the time, as many as 30 people lived in this area in tents and other structures. Deputies called this “Operation Clean Sweep.” A homeless task force commented that living in a camp gives homeless people a feeling of safety they cannot find sleeping on the street. The deputies distributed small bags of supplies and a list of shelters and other resources to individuals living there. After giving inhabitants of this campsite an initial warning, deputies did not return.
According to a fact sheet published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, 40% of homeless men are veterans. A startling 39% of homeless people in America are children under 18. One-quarter (25%) of homeless women are domestic abuse victims, and families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.
“The people without homes have rights too,” Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, told East County Magazine. He noted that the Sheriff’s release made no mention of alternative housing for those displaced from the makeshift shelters in Lakeside. He concluded, “Most living in these conditions have few or no options.”