California Politicians on Both Sides of the Divide Vote to Criminalize Homelessness

politicians

Politicians on both sides are pushing to criminalize homelessness in California and nationwide, prioritizing self-interest over compassion. Proposed bills like SB1011, though rejected initially, highlight a bipartisan trend aiming to clear homeless encampments under deceptive titles, while lacking real solutions.


Homelessness continues to soar to record highs in the United States, and studies show the general public is waking up to this harsh truth and demanding answers. Meanwhile, politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, are leaning more in favor of homeless criminalization.

The reason for this is not rooted in compassion at all. It is rooted, and admittedly so, in self-interest. Politicians know that sweeps are not a solution to the homeless crisis. Still, they continue to present them as such because it is what corporate donors and the general voting public support.

Recently Rejected Bill SB1011 Claims in Its Deceptive Title to Represent ‘Compassionately Clearing Encampments’

*This bill is still up for reconsideration. 

The presentation of SB 1011 is one of the most recent examples of a growing bipartisan movement to forcibly clear homeless encampments under the guise of compassion.

Like thousands of others, this bill was brought to the table by Republicans and Democrats together, as they showed solidarity only in ripping the lives and livelihoods of unhoused community members to shreds.

It was initially introduced by Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones, a Republican, who worked with Democratic Senator Catherine Blakespear to bring the unsettling legislation to the table. It was met with overwhelming support across party lines. 

Deceptive Titles, Scrupulous Implications, and Relying on Public Misinformation to Promote Criminalizing Homelessness

While the bill ultimately got rejected by the Senate Public Safety Committee, it is still up for reconsideration. Perhaps more disturbingly, its existence reflects a nationwide trend that leans heavily in favor of criminalizing homelessness.

It is an embodiment of the shifty tactics we are now seeing in template criminalization legislation. It relies mainly on:

  • Loaded language that suggests clearing homeless encampments without having permanent supportive housing options available is somehow compassionate, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, this is merely the relocation of homelessness coupled with a failure to acknowledge the true underlying causes of homelessness
  • Misconceptions about the true causes of homelessness and the misrepresentation of homeless community members.

To quote the bill’s summary text directly:

“SB 1011 prohibits homeless encampments near schools, open spaces, and major transit stops. This bill balances accountability with compassion by implementing a 72-hour warning before an encampment is cleared and requires enforcement officers to provide information about sleeping alternatives, homeless and mental health services, and/or homeless shelters in the area.”

While the statement here is brief, there is much to unpack.

First, the idea that providing a mere 72 hours to evacuate a premise for people who have nowhere else to go is compassionate is ludicrous. People with a place to live need more than 72 hours to relocate in most instances, barring some unforeseen emergency. The bill also does not require the city to supply permanent supportive housing or even have any temporary shelter space available.

While trashing tents and personal belongings and forcibly evicting encampment residents, law enforcement officials need only provide information about services and sleeping alternatives, which is not the same as providing permanent housing and services. It is the opposite of that. 

SB 1011 would prohibit homeless encampments “within 500 feet of a public or private school, open space or major transit stop, as specified,” the bulk of the text proclaims. And like most template criminalization legislation, the bipartisan proposal makes it illegal for people enduring the horrors of homelessness to engage in necessary life-sustaining activities like:

  • Sitting
  • Sleeping 
  • Standing
  • Storing belongings
  • And lying down

These Texts Restrict Large Swaths of the City, Barring Homeless Encampment Residents from Entering Them

During an exclusive interview with investigative journalist Brian Barth, who has dedicated much of his career to uncovering the truth about homeless encampment sweeps, we got his take on this kind of template legislation.

“There is a lot of that kind of thing going around, and I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to introduce bills that sort of say, we’re not going to allow encampments in these defined zones, and we’re going to target enforcement in those zones,” he said. “But then, in theory, there would have to be other areas of the city where they’re not targeting the enforcement of anti-homeless legislation.”

“The issue is when these zones end up comprising enormous chunks of the city, making it so there is no place for homeless people to go at all. It sounds very politically palatable, right? To say we don’t want encampments next to school buildings and things like that,” Barth continued. “But in the end, it winds up meaning there is no place for homeless encampments at all.”

“I do think that if this was hand-in-hand with some kind of outreach program that distributed underutilized land in the city to members of the unsheltered community, that kind of approach would be more supportive,” Barth continued. “But what I have observed about a lot of those proposals is they tend to cover the vast majority of the city, and it ends up where there’s hardly anywhere these encampment residents can legally reside.”

Loaded Language Moves from Legislation to the Press, with Politicians Intentionally Painting Homeless People in a Negative Light

In an interview regarding this bill, Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh can be heard spewing unbacked rhetoric about the unhoused community. 

“By compassionately clearing encampments, we aim to ensure that families can go about their daily lives without having to worry about the dangers posed by unhoused individuals suffering from behavioral health and opioid addiction issues, trash, and drug paraphernalia,” she said.

It should be duly noted that housing is the leading cause of homelessness, not behavioral health or opioid addiction. Unhoused community members are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes than aggressors of them. Suggesting that unhoused individuals pose a danger to housed people is, in itself, a dangerous statement that could have severe repercussions for homeless people. 

Other representatives echoed similar sentiments that sought to draw negative imagery by perpetuating stereotypes about the homeless population. 

Talk to Your Legislators About the Fact That Homeless Encampment Sweeps Aren’t Solving Homelessness

comptroller audit concluded that after thousands of homeless residents were forcibly evicted from their encampments, only three were exited into permanent housing situations. Journalist Brian Barth, featured above, later revealed that although encampment sweeps are ineffective, they are profitable for select private organizations.

Ultimately, we need real solutions to homelessness to start dominating upcoming legislation. These tactics should include permanent housing, affordable options, and services. Talk to your legislators and let them know you don’t want bipartisan rhetoric. You want results.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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