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Note from A News Cafe: This letter from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty to the City of Redding is being printed verbatim.
City of Redding
Submitted via email
Re: Redding Municipal Code Chapter 10.40.010 regulating Camping
Dear Council Members,
I write on behalf of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“Law
Center”) to express concern about Redding Municipal Code Chapter 10.40.010,
relating to Unlawful Camping. The proposed camping ban, even if amended as
proposed, is a doomed-to-fail policy attempt to manage homelessness through
policing and evictions from outdoor homes. It will not meet the City’s goal of
improving public safety, nor will it sustainably reduce homelessness in Redding.
Instead, this proposal will waste limited public resources on an ineffective
strategy for addressing Redding’s homeless crisis, and enforcement of RMC
10.40.010 against unhoused people also risks violating federal law. We urge the
City of Redding to abandon its punitive policy approach and to instead pursue
proven, cost-effective solutions to homelessness.
WHO WE ARE
The Law Center is based in Washington, D.C., and it is the only national legal
organization dedicated solely to preventing and ending homelessness. We have
more than 25 years of experience in policy advocacy, public education, and
impact litigation. Since 2006, the Law Center has tracked laws criminalizing
homelessness in 187 cities across the country, and we have documented the
failures and costs of those policies in a series of widely read national reports.
In addition to raising awareness about the criminalization of homelessness, we
have filed lawsuits to challenge the use of criminal laws to exclude homeless
people from public space. One of our cases, Martin v. City of Boise, resulted in
a recent decision from the Ninth Circuit, the highest federal court in the western
United States, condemning the criminalization of homelessness.
The City of Redding is in the grips of a housing and homelessness crisis. Shasta
County is home to over 700 homeless people, many of them in Redding. Even this high number is generally understood to be an undercount of the actual homeless
There is not enough area housing or even temporary emergency shelter to meet their needs, which leaves many individuals and families with no option but to live outside in public space. Despite this harsh reality, the City of Redding makes it unlawful to “camp” in public.2
“Camping” is defined broadly to include mere rest on public property with a
backpack or a sleeping bag.3
There is no practical way for unhoused people in Redding to comply with the broad camping ban, as inevitably each must rest and they lack any lawful place to do so.
On September 4, 2018, the Ninth Circuit ruled that it violates the Cruel and Unusual
Punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to punish unhoused people for resting in public when they are involuntarily in public space.4
The Court held that “as long as significantly harder for unhoused people to access the housing, employment, and services they need to stop living in public areas.8
Moreover, punishing acts of survival is futile. Human beings cannot reasonably forego acts of rest that they are biologically compelled to perform.
Punitive approaches to homelessness are not just futile, they are also expensive.
As stated by Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle regarding enforcement of Boulder’s own camping ban, “Jail is an expensive solution. I can’t even call it a solution. It’s an
expensive option. . . . I’m not sure this is a problem we’re going to enforce our way out of.” 9
These policies also continue to threaten your community’s access federal funding for
homeless services. 10
Punitive approaches to homelessness have been found to violate federal law. All
human beings must rest and, when they lack accessible housing and shelter, they must do so in public space. To punish acts of rest by homeless people who are involuntarily living outside is akin to punishing the status of homelessness itself – a cruel result that cannot be tolerated under constitutional law.11
Resting in public is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless so long as there is no option to rest indoors, like in an emergency shelter. While the proposed amendment contemplates the availability of shelter before enforcement of RMC 10.40.010, it interprets the holding in Martin holding too narrowly. Under Martin, access to shelter means that a person has actual access to shelter that meets the individual’s needs, taking into consideration disability and other individual factors not expressly included in the proposed amendment. As a result, the proposed amendment grants too much discretion to police to enforce the ordinance against unhoused people who lack actual access to shelter.
There are sensible, cost-effective, and constitutional policy solutions to
homelessness. Redding would be wise to focus on expanding options for housing and temporary housing alternatives that will suit the unique needs of its homeless residents. Indeed, that is the primary takeaway from the Ninth Circuit’s ruling: Cities cannot, by law, criminalize homelessness in a misguided effort to solve it. Cities, instead, have an opportunity to use their policy making authority to pursue real solutions.
Numerous studies have shown that communities actually save money by providing
housing and services to those in need, rather than involving them in the costly criminal justice system. For example, the Economic Roundtable of Homelessness in Los Angeles found that housing homeless people reduced average monthly spending by 41% per person, even after including the cost of providing housing.12 This savings included a 95% reduction in jail facilities and services costs.13
A similar study of chronically homeless individuals in Seattle, Washington, found that costs decreased by 60% per individual after one year in housing – even after factoring in the cost of housing and supportive services.14 Indeed, researchers stated that, “permanent, rather than temporary housing may be necessary to fully realize these cost savings, because benefits continued to accrue the longer these individuals were housed.”15
Key to the success of this programming is a Housing First approach. Under this
approach, homeless people are quickly placed into permanent housing, supplemented by any supportive services necessary to help them maintain housing stability. The State of Utah, which in 2005 was the first to apply the Housing First model state-wide, successfully reduced chronic homelessness by 91% – and achieved significant tax dollar savings as a result.16
Charleston, South Carolina provides a good example of how Housing First can work to end street homelessness.17 In early 2016, Charleston, SC, dismantled a large
encampment known as “Tent-City” of more than 100 homeless persons living beneath an overpass. To accomplish this, the mayor and city service providers developed a 10- point plan of assistance 18 covered issues ranging from safety and legal concerns to treatment of personal property. Police worked collaboratively with social service workers, and priority was placed on providing permanent housing options, or at a minimum, temporary housing with a path to permanency. To support this work, the City launched a fund to collect private donations that were then used to reimburse local service providers working to house the encampment residents. Charleston successfully dismantled Tent-City without destroying a single item of claimed property or making a single arrest.19 Moreover, Charleston accomplished this while preserving the rights and dignity of its unhoused residents.
Redding should redirect resources currently spent on uselessly punishing
homelessness, and invest in cost-effective housing solutions proven to end it. Redding should also work to expand areas where unhoused people may temporarily live and lawfully sit, lie down, and sleep – even if outdoors and/or in their vehicles – as it works toward its longer term housing goals.20 Our Tent City USA report, available at https://www.nlchp.org/Tent_City_USA_2017, offers best practices, case studies, and guiding principles to assist communities in establishing areas where unhoused people may stably live until adequate housing is available.
We urge the City of Redding to abandon the proposed punitive approach to
homelessness and to instead pursue proven, cost-effective solutions to homelessness.
1 National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Don’t Count On It: How the HUD Point-in-Time Count Underestimates the Homelessness Crisis in America (2017).
2 See RMC 10.40.030 where “camp” and “camping” are defined as, “the placement on public or private property for the purpose of making a living accommodation, no matter how temporary, of tents, tarpaulins, temporary shelters, house trailers, motor vehicles or parts thereof, trailers, cooking facilities, cots, ground covers, bedding, hammocks, backpacks, sleeping bags and other equipment of a similar
nature used to live temporarily in the outdoors.”
4 Martin v. City of Boise, 902 F.3d 1031 (9th Cir. 2018).
6 See Report to Redding City Council from City Attorney Barry DeWalt for meeting on December 18, 2018.
7 Proposed amendment to RMC 10.40.010.
9 Natinya Ruan, Too High A Price 2: Move On to Where?, University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, Homeless Advocacy Policy Project (2018).
10 National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Scoring Points: How Ending the Criminalizatin of Homelessness Can Increase HUD Funding to Your Community (2018).
11 Martin v. City of Boise, 902 F.3d 1031 (9th Cir. 2018). In reaching its decision, the court affirmed the rationale of Jones v. City of Los Angeles which held that, “the Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 444 F.3d 1118, 1138 (9th Cir. 2006), vacated after settlement, 505 F.3d 1006.
12 Flaming, Daniel, Patrick Burns and Michael Matsunaga. Where We Sleep: Costs when Homeless and Housed in Los Angeles, Economic Roundtable (2009).
14 Mary E. Larimer, PhD; Daniel K. Malone, MPH; Michelle D. Garner, MSW, PhD, Health Care & Public Service Use & Costs Before & After Provision of Housing for Chronically Homeless Persons with Severe Alcohol Problems, The JAMA Network, (Apr. 1, 2009).
16 Kelly McEvers, Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How, NPR (Dec. 10, 2015).
17 National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Tent City USA (2018).
18 Id. at 106.
19 Id. at 50.