The Solano County Board of Supervisors’ reaction to the proposed state Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights is that this is the wrong approach to a legitimate problem.
“This bill is just absolutely a terrible bill,” Supervisor Jim Spering said.“I just can’t believe it would get out of the Legislature”– he made the slightest of pauses –“but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
The board voted 4-1 Tuesday to oppose the bill. Supervisor Linda Seifert cast the “no” vote, not because she supported the bill as written, but because she wanted to take a wait-and-see approach pending possible amendments.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is the author of Assembly Bill 5. The bill is presently in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. All the Solano County Board of Supervisors can do is express its viewpoint, with the state Legislature to make the decision.
Ammiano’s proposed Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act begins with a history of discriminatory laws that at one time affected the poor and homeless. It lists Jim Crow laws, anti-Okie laws and “ugly” laws prohibiting people with unsightly disabilities from appearing in public.
Problems remain, it says, with homeless people unfairly targeted by law enforcement and rarely having access to shelters. Many people are denied such things as due process and access to safe, clean restrooms.
Among other things, the proposed bill says that homeless people have the right to move freely, rest, solicit donations, pray, meditate and eat in public spaces,“in the same manner as every other person.” It says they should be able to rest or sleep in any legally parked vehicle on public property.
Homeless people should be able to do these things without facing criminal or civic sanctions or harassment by law enforcement officers or private security guards, the proposed bill says. A county must provide them with an attorney if it arrests a homeless person under laws prohibiting such things as loitering, it says.
Every city and poorer rural community is to have health and hygiene centers available 24 hours a day with bathrooms and showers, the proposed law says. The state Department of Public Health is to pay the cost.
An Assembly Appropriations Committee report said the cost statewide could be $216 million to build the centers and $81 million annually to staff and operate them.
If passed, the bill would mean additional costs for the Solano County. For example, county parks might have to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the homeless, a county report said.
An Assembly report said cities and counties would incur significant costs statewide to the extent homeless people file lawsuits alleging violations of the rights listed in the bill.
Supervisor Erin Hannigan said the proposed bill legitimizes homelessness as a way to live. It would divert resources from creating permanent homes for people in unfortunate situations, she said.
Seifert stated her disbelief that the Legislature would pass the bill as it stands. Yet she sees the homeless issue as important and wanted the statewide discussion to continue. She talked of trusting leaders to do the right thing and amend to the bill and address homelessness in a better way.
“Your words are very kind,” Supervisor Skip Thomson replied.“Really, I think we all feel that way about homelessness.”
But the county needs to make it clear the bill as written is unacceptable, Thomson said.
“I’m not often speechless, but when I read this bill – I can’t believe there was time spent on this bill, to be blunt,” Thomson said.
Among the proposed bill’s many supporters are the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the American Civil Liberties Union, Richmond, California Nurses Association, Occupy Sacramento, Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless, the San Diego Hunger Coalition and Swords to Plowshares.