If you would like to moderate the debate, please contact Event Host Deborah Binder through this site.
Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the principle that criminalizing people for camping or sleeping in public without any place to go is illegal. However, the Court allowed that if a municipality has available shelter capacity for everyone on the street, it can disallow occupying a public sidewalk or thoroughfare in the evening. Shortly after the Appellate Court’s decision, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg called on California leaders to adopt a right to shelter law to ensure shelter space for all homeless people in the state and which would also legally obligate them to use it when offered. And just this month, Las Vegas officials approved a ban on camping and sleeping in residential areas and public areas downtown when shelter space is available.
Supporters of a ban on public camping when shelter is available and offered argue that public camping causes numerous public health and safety risks, such as those related to contagious disease, drug-use, violence, fire hazards, litter, rodents, and property crimes. Campers blocks sidewalks and other thoroughfares, impeding and sometimes intimidating pedestrians. Businesses often struggle to keep customers because of the encampments around their businesses. Supporters also stress that a ban on public camping would not be enforced when shelters are full.
Opponents argue that a ban on public camping is tantamount to criminalizing poverty in favor of business interests. Such a ban ignores the roots of the homelessness problem and would be costly, inhumane, and ensnare individuals into a cycle of incarceration. The ban would divert substantial funding away from permanent supportive housing, as well as require an army of new public defenders charged with defending those violating the ban. No wonder freshly elected SF DA Chesa Boudin has said his office will not prosecute cases involving public camping and blocking a sidewalk, saying these involving quality-of-life offenses “should not and will not be prosecuted." Need it be added that people in shelters are still homeless.
So what do you think? Is banning public camping when shelter is available and offered a step in the right direction? Does it necessarily entail a diversion of funds from permanent housing solutions? Is it essentially inhumane?
Join us at the next SFDebate to explore and debate these and other questions. Note that $5 will be charged at the door for all attendees (to offset room rental costs).