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HomeGeneralCalifornia New Bill to Ban Homeless Encampments

California New Bill to Ban Homeless Encampments

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Homeless tents
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There is a new bill in California that aims to ban homeless encampments near “sensitive community areas” statewide. The bipartisan Senate Bill 1011 was introduced earlier this month. If a homeless shelter is available, it would ban people from doing several things.

It also restricts people from camping within 500 feet of a public or private school, open space, or major transit stop. A violation could lead to a misdemeanor or an infraction. But, according to the bill’s sponsors, local officials will determine how to enforce the misdemeanor violations.

State Sens. Brian Jones and Catherine Blakespear believe the bill will address issues of homelessness in California. The state has the largest homeless population in the United States.

“What we are trying to do is compassionately clearing encampments near areas that are sensitive to the public and the public needs to have safe access to,” Jones said in an ABC News interview.

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“It is not compassionate for us to have people dying on the streets in front of us and in our public spaces while we walk by them,” Blakespear said in a separate interview with ABC News.

The bill was introduced on February 5. It will require authorities to give “verbal or written information regarding alternative locations to sleep, homeless and mental health services.”

Under the bill, each locality must develop policies on what happens to someone’s property when they leave a camping site. Some of California’s homeless shelters have been taking heat in recent years.

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There have been allegations from civil rights groups of poor conditions, including rodent and bedbug infestations, filthy bathrooms, and harassment. Blakespear and Jones highlighted tactics used in San Diego under its Unsafe Camping Ordinance on how shelter conditions would affect the implementation of this program.

They say it is the inspiration behind the bill. San Diego opened safe camping sites so people could choose to keep camping in managed, designated areas. They have access to bathrooms, food, and water in such areas.

There are also social workers to help get people back on their feet. Jones and Blakespear hope California cities embrace similar initiatives to support the bill’s goal. However, creating safe camping sites is not part of the bill.

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“There are lots of reasons people don’t want to be in congregate shelters- concerns about theft and lack of privacy,” Blakespear said.

“I think having safe camping, along with safe parking and permanent supportive housing, and also additional emphasis on mental health and substance abuse issues and having more beds available for people there, those are all pieces of the puzzle.”

Jones believes safe camping areas can better protect against harassment and violent interactions. Both are things that may also occur in unmanaged encampment sites. According to both lawmakers, having a steady place for homeless residents to access social services is crucial to achieving stability.

“If they’re in the safe camping areas when the social services people come, they know they’re going to be able to interact with that person on a regular and continuous basis,” Jones said.

Jones and Blakespear’s proposed bill is not the only homelessness-focused initiative being processed in the state. Proposition 1, dubbed “Treatment Not Tents,” has been the subject of debate ahead of the state’s March vote.

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The proposition intends to do a number of things. These include creating supportive housing for people with severe mental illness to achieve stability, among other goals. However, the distribution of funding on a local level has prompted debate. Some critics argue it could divert funds from other mental health programs. 

In August 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom revealed that the state will convert vacant office buildings in Sacramento into affordable housing. They hope this will address high housing costs and homelessness in the state.

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