More in City Hall:
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- Public hearing to be held for Sunrise Mall redevelopment plan October 17, 2021
- Survey finds overwhelming support for steel arch option on Auburn Blvd October 17, 2021
By Mike Hazlip–
While voters in Citrus Heights lined up at the polls on Tuesday, about a dozen people joined in a small demonstration outside City Hall to make their voices heard on the issue of camping on public property.
Alfred Sanchez, known to many as the Snack Man, organized the event and described it as a “peaceful assembly.” Sanchez said he wanted people in the community who are currently homeless to know their rights when it comes to sleeping on public property.
As a homeless advocate, Sanchez says the people he encounters have no alternative other than sleeping on the streets. He says the Martin v. Boise court ruling in 2018 provides people experiencing homelessness some protection from the city’s enforcement of civil codes designed to restrict camping on public property.
The ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has received both heavy criticism and praise. The decision hinged on the precept that criminalizing human behavior such as sleeping on public property when there is no shelter available is “cruel and unusual punishment,” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Ninth Circuit encompasses nine western states, including Alaska and Hawaii so the Martin v. Boise decision has a far-reaching effect.
“(The) Martin vs. Boise ruling says if there’s no adequate shelter, they cannot cite you for camping,” Sanchez said. Additionally, he said allowing people to sleep in their vehicles would help the homeless community.
“Doable right now would be a safe place to park,” he said. “I don’t know why we can’t just park right here. According to the letter of the law of Martin v. Boise, there’s no reason we cannot just sleep in our cars right here. Some of the people said they were going to come here with tents, set them up here and not leave.”
Sanchez said Citrus Heights police sent an eviction notice to an individual who was sleeping on a sidewalk. He didn’t name the individual, but said he thinks police actions were in violation of the Boise ruling.
Citrus Heights Police Lt. Michael Wells told The Sentinel in an email Thursday that enforcement of camping ordinances does not violate the ruling.
“The Martin v. Boise decision ensures people experiencing homelessness will not be cited or arrested for sleeping outdoors when alternative shelter is not available, and the city will continue to take steps to put every person experiencing homelessness and desiring services on a path to permanent housing,” Wells said.
Responding to Sanchez’ claim of someone being kicked off a sidewalk, Wells said it likely involved someone blocking a sidewalk or public right of way.
“The officers have discretion in these situations, and I can tell you based on my experience that the issuance of a citation for blocking a right-of-way often comes after numerous failed attempts to gain voluntary compliance,” Wells said.
He also noted a distinction between camping and sleeping, and said sleeping is protected by the Boise decision while camping is not.
“With regards to sleeping versus camping, an individual is allowed to sleep, but not erect a tent or any other camping apparatus,” the lieutenant said. “The only change that occurred as a result of the Martin v. Boise decision was a relaxed stance on individuals who are sleeping, which prior to that would have likely been handled as a loitering incident.”
Citrus Heights municipal code 50-502 bars camping in the city, stating: “It shall be unlawful for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities or use camp paraphernalia in the city, whether on public or private property, whether paved or unpaved, except as expressly permitted by this article.”
Camping within city limits is allowed in designated areas, residential backyards with owner’s consent, or at authorized events, according to the code. The city has the authorization to abate and remove camp facilities and paraphernalia according to section 50-505, and Wells said police give a 72-hour courtesy notice before taking further action to clear out a camp.
Leslie Rust attended Tuesday’s demonstration with her three children. Rust said she was sleeping on the streets when she was eight months pregnant. She is now in a shelter and hopes to attain more permanent housing, but says there are challenges to transitioning into housing.
“If someone held our hand through the process,” she said. “Because we’re coming with bad credit, evictions, domestic violence, mental illness, drug abuse. We just need more case workers to actually get us where we need to be.”
Both private and public programs have been formed to help those willing to get into transitional and permanent housing, including the local nonprofit Homeless Assistance Resource Team and Everyone Matters Ministries. The latter is a Roseville-based nonprofit which acquires RV’s and travel trailers and rents them out at a low cost to provide transitional housing and mentoring to those seeking help.
Individuals like Sanchez also seek to do their part to help area homeless. The Citrus Heights City Council recognized him earlier this month by issuing a proclamation recognizing him for his efforts to feed and advocate on behalf of local homeless as well as helping resolve complaints. He is regularly seen delivering snacks and checking up on area homeless.
For Sanchez, homelessness can be a degrading situation that leaves a lasting impression, something he has personally experienced.
“There’s a stigma that stays with you, and it’s hard to explain,” he said. “It’s just sad the way people look at you.”
Want to share your thoughts on homelessness in Citrus Heights? The Sentinel welcomes letter to the editor or opinion columns for publication. To submit one online, click here.
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