I have been to three events in the last 10 days that had new Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro as the key speaker (Consensus Santa Rosa last Monday night, Alliance Board of Directors Wednesday morning, and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber Advocacy Meeting Wednesday at noon). Ray is a local guy who has been on the job for 90 days and shared his thoughts on some of the main issues facing the Police Department in his new position. The number one problem Ray and the Police Department now must deal with-HOMELESSNESS.
That is why I chose to write this week’s Soapbox on the topic. Homelessness is affecting all residents in Northern California as our Police services are stretched to the breaking point in trying to deal with the problem while burdened with restrictive rules that limit their effectiveness.
The problem in dealing with the homeless has four huge components:
- The Boise Decision-homeless folks cannot be forced to move from sleeping in public areas unless suitable housing is offered to them as an alternative. This is a Ninth Circuit Court decision from 2014.
- AB47 was passed in 2014 which decriminalizes most “minor” infractions of the law. Police can not arrest people for possession of illegal drugs, or defecating in public, or for public intoxication, or littering, etc., etc.
- State Laws passed in 2009 by a panel of Federal Judges, citing overcrowding and inhumane treatment of prisoners, link. mandated jails and prisons to lower their inmate population without any provision for funding mental health or drug rehab options.
- Cheap and plentiful manufactured drugs that are highly addictive flow into the United States from foreign countries. Many homeless people have substance abuse problems and cannot find adequate treatment to mitigate their addiction.
One of the most complex and frustrating aspects of his (and his fellow Peace Officer’s job) is the continuing and expanding problem of dealing with the homeless population of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.
Homelessness is nothing new nor is the problem confined to Sonoma County. We have all seen the news footage of the huge homeless encampments in Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles (to see a great video on the homeless problem in Seattle, click on this link)-
We all can agree that the problem is obviously starting to have a major effect on tourism, business retention, crime, and quality of life for all of us who have proximity to the homeless encampments along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.
Effect of the Boise Decision: About two years ago, the area of the ECA office had over 100 RV’s and tents and vans parked along Apollo Way in Santa Rosa. People were defecating in doorways of businesses, shooting up meth and heroin in public view, and leaving trash all around. We were incredulous as we got more involved with Keith Woods (head of the Business Owners Association in the area) in trying to advocate to get these broken-down pollution eyesores out of our business park. We got a quick education as to how difficult it is to get these people to go somewhere else. Police are very restricted in what they can do to help business owners who must deal with walking in and out of their buildings early and late and feeling unsafe. What Keith and other business owners discovered is that cops could not just tell the “squatters” to leave. Believe it or not, the key ruling that restricts getting homeless people to move off public property did not come from California. The key case is one that came from Boise, Idaho. In that case, six homeless plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the City of Boise, Idaho alleging laws prohibiting them from sleeping in public constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” and violated their rights under the eighth Amendment. A good article on this can be found by clicking on the link—
So basically, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on this decision in 2014, they found in favor of the Plaintiffs if no suitable alternative housing was available for the homeless to be moved to. The Court ruled that the homeless have no alternative if housing is not available so they cannot be rousted from the public area.
The area along Apollo Way is now becoming a homeless encampment again.
Effect of AB47: By decriminalizing drug use, and other “minor” infractions, the local District Attorney (Jill Ravitch) refuses to prosecute cited homeless “repeat offenders” so when cops do cite these people for public defecation and other minor problems (trespassing and minor theft as well!), they get booked into jail and most often released back on the street within hours. Absolutely no ramifications for their conduct that most of us would find abhorrent.
Effect of Mandates to Lower Prison Populations: When the State was mandated to reduce their prison populations, they basically “dumped” many of the inmates back on the local jail system. They effectively put the burden of housing long term prisoners on institutions that were not built to house prisoners for long times. There was no funding assistance offered from the State to the Cities and Counties, and that created policies from local District Attorneys that lead to the DA not prosecuting these folks that get cited by the cops. They serve no time. There is no penalty for them. So-they keep doing the things we find abhorrent and intrusive-like polluting our business doorways, minor theft, drug use, etc. etc.
Finally-the Effect of Cheap and Highly Addictive Drugs Flooding the USA: I have read estimates that 80% of the homeless population have substance abuse problems. That is a lot of people. Drug treatment and mental health programs are ill equipped and poorly funded to handle the situation. Many elected officials decry “racist” as policies to seal off or control our borders from people smuggling drugs or from the shipping of drugs into the USA from China and other countries. As an example, if you were to set up a business that handles pharmacy drugs in the USA, properly licensed, you can receive shipments from China that bypass any inspection by ATF, FDA, or Homeland Security. In other words, you find a source in China to ship you Fentanyl, you get it. Now that it is in the USA, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to distribute it to homeless and other users. Get them addicted, and you have a great repeating business plan (until they overdose of course).
So, what can we ECA Members do about all this mess? I think the obvious action items we have available to us are as follows:
- Have business owners fill out a form at the local Police Department called the “Trespass Letter”. Cops can and do respond to anybody calling in on behalf of a property owner that is witness to trespassing as long as this form is on file.
- Write to our local District Attorney and demand they prosecute repeat offenders to keep them off the streets and keep the “rest of us” safe.
- Vote in a different way than the norm in California. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is out of control. We need new judges to protect us.
- Take photos and videos of environmental damage caused by the homeless folks. Disgusting as this might seem, take the photos and demand that the environmental groups do something about the damage to our environment.
- Vote for the Mental Health tax that will be on the 2020 Ballot in Sonoma County. Mental Health needs more funding.
Other than that, I guess we just “look the other way” and try to protect our kids and grandkids from seeing these denizens.
That’s All Folks!