Anaheim City Council Now Declaring War on Homeless: Update

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Josue Rivas
Homeless tent
See the update at the end of this post on the council backing off of voting on the ordinance.

ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 23, 2:31 P.M.: A week after activist Stephen Baxter held a 'sleep-in' protest in downtown Fullerton over the city's war on the homeless, Anaheim will try to one-up them with a punitive ordinance of its own. The city municipal code already forbids staying in a public park between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m., which has the homeless laying their head elsewhere for the night--but that's not enough for councilwoman Kris Murray and her crew!

On Tuesday, council members will decide on a proposal aimed at banning camping and storage of personal property on public property at any time.

In a staff report submitted by Director of Community Services Terry Lowe, the ordinance is framed as one that will "serve as a tool in the City's effort to promote and support safe, clean and accessible neighborhoods and eliminate blight." Never once are the homeless referenced directly, but it couldn't be clearer who the intended target is.

If Anaheim's city council should approve the crackdown--and it almost assuredly will--no homeless person can use a tent for living purposes at any hour in public areas including parks, alleys, parking lots, or any other publicly owned property. Nor could they store personal belongings such as the tents themselves, sleeping bags, bedrolls, cooking equipment, books, money and appliances in addition to other possessions in such spaces.

Public parks are the most visible places where the city's homeless population set up tents during the day. Since the eviction of a sizable homeless encampment in Fullerton by the shuttered Hunt Library earlier this year, many of those displaced turned up on the east lawn of La Palma Park in Anaheim.

Josue Rivas / OC Weekly
La Palma Park in Anaheim

The belongings of the homeless would be subject to 90-day impounds so long as they are given "proper notice." Anaheim police can immediately confiscate possessions if they are left after hours at the park or deemed to be contraband, a threat to public health and safety or evidence of crime. Retrieval is allowed when the Chief of Police finds proof of ownership to be "satisfactory."

If that's not the case, the city stands poised to make money off of the confiscations, whether through depositing unclaimed money into the general fund or holding auctions.

Enforcement of the ordinance entails fines for infractions. The first violation would cost $100. A second violation within a year is punishable up to $200 with every subsequent infraction in that time span costing $500.

"I would categorize this ordinance as part of the larger 'criminalization of homelessness' that many communities fall back on when they choose to be less creative with their problem solving," says Jennifer Lee-Anderson, Co-Chair of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force and policy planning consultant on homelessness. "The $100 to $500 fines that are noted in the proposed ordinance are part of the reason that many chronically homeless are simply cycled through the criminal justice system repeatedly."

Near La Palma Park, the city is just weeks into a newly opened storage area and outreach center. The homeless can take advantage of Conex boxes set up to leave their personal belongings during the day. The city-owned parking lot by Glover Stadium is close to where people continue to set up tents. In a heavy-handed way, the ordinance could encourage more homeless to participate in the pilot program but is also a cause for concern and clarification. "There's no language that exempts the storage area," adds Lee-Anderson expressing disappointment that she learned about this proposal from the Weekly and not city staff. There is also the issue of other public areas in Anaheim far beyond La Palma Park where homeless persons stay.

For the past six years, Jim Carter has taken students at Servite High School, where he works, to serve meals at La Palma Park every Thursday. "I understand where the city comes from. I understand where the police come from," says Carter, also a member of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force that has drafted a 15 point plan to address homelessness. "I don't think [the ordinance] is a good thing. Unless it comes with a long-range plan to help these people move out of this situation, it's just going to add stress to them. Where are the homeless going to go?"

"What would have been nice is if the city adopted the 15 point plan in full," Carter mentions, emphasizing the key recommendation of establishing a multi-service center. "If the city is not willing to find a location where we can put a shelter, it's never going to change."

UPDATE, SEPT. 25, 9:57 A.M.: Members of the Anaheim city council decided last night to continue discussing homelessness in the city at its next scheduled meeting. They did not take up a vote on a controversial ordinance that would have banned camping and storing personal property in public areas including parks. A number of people took to the podium to criticize the effect such a move would have on the city's homeless population.

"We are not going to put up with criminalizing the mentally ill and the homeless," Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, said to the council. "Where are they to live? Do you have those answers?"

"What we are asking you right now is to delay the vote on the ordinance," said Annan Aboul-Nasr, Co-Chair of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force. "We have solutions. We look forward to sitting down with you again and looking at positive strategies that can help the homeless...not criminalize them."

Councilwoman Kris Murray took issue with the characterization once the ordinance made its way through yet another marathon meeting of the city council. "I want to clear up some misconceptions that the city is looking to criminalize homelessness," she said. "That is false." She made the statement despite the fact that the proposed ordinance would entail prohibitions and fines directly affecting them.

A rarity inside council chambers came next. Buckling under public outcry, Murray motioned for continuance so that more outreach with organizations working on homelessness could take place before the October 8 city council meeting. All present members voted accordingly.

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz

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