In San Francisco, sleeping is a crime: New data shows SFPD giving mountains of tickets to homeless people for resting

by Jennifer Friedenbach

homeless-child-roadside-sleeping

San Francisco – At a time that the Department of Justice is calling the citing, arresting and forced displacement of homeless people for sleeping cruel and unusual punishment, new data from the SFPD indicates that it is fully engaged in this practice: Homeless people received 11,920 citations for resting in public space in 2014.

A total of 13,390 citations were given to homeless people for anti-homeless “offenses,” including panhandling, trespassing, urination or defecation, drinking in public or other activities that homeless people have no other choice but to perform in public. This amounts to 258 citations a week or 37 a day. Of those, 11,920 citations were issued for sleeping or sitting in public spaces alone.

At a time that the Department of Justice is calling the citing, arresting and forced displacement of homeless people for sleeping cruel and unusual punishment, new data from the SFPD indicates that it is fully engaged in this practice: Homeless people received 11,920 citations for resting in public space in 2014.

From citation data provided for the period of January-June 2015, the SFPD is on track to issue over 30 percent more citations for resting in public than in 2014. According to Human Rights Organizing Director Lisa Marie Alatorre of the Coalition on Homelessness:

“This data flies in the face of recent statements by public officials that the City of San Francisco does not engage in criminalization efforts. The City of San Francisco is burnishing its progressive image by creating further misery for people already suffering from the severest form of poverty.”

On Aug. 6, 2015, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest brief in a case opposing a Boise, Idaho, anti-camping ordinance on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment. According to a press statement issued by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, “Criminally prosecuting those individuals for something as innocent as sleeping, when they have no safe, legal place to go, violates their constitutional rights.”

Less than one week later, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) took a further step by releasing official guidance for communities coping with the growth of homeless encampments. The guide emphasizes that forced dispersal of homeless encampments is not an appropriate intervention and can make it more difficult to have lasting positive housing and services outcomes.

In a further step, HUD released statements on Aug. 17, 2015, that they are considering reductions of homeless housing and services funding for those localities which pass anti-homeless laws.

According to a press statement issued by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, “Criminally prosecuting those individuals for something as innocent as sleeping, when they have no safe, legal place to go, violates their constitutional rights.”

A recent study completed by researchers at the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and the Coalition on Homelessness not only found the enforcement of such laws unconstitutional, but ineffective and counterproductive. The findings indicated that the majority – 70 percent – of people experiencing homelessness for any duration in San Francisco received at least one citation during the past year with nearly 50 percent of those living unsheltered receiving five or more.

Ninety percent of citations went unpaid. Each unpaid citation results in a minimum of $400 in fines and fees and frequently leads to the issuance of an arrest warrant and suspension of driver’s license, which create barriers to obtaining work and housing and ultimately exiting homelessness. The current system of mass citation was also found to cost the city millions in policing and court costs.

Housing has long been recognized as the true solution to homelessness, and lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness.

Housing has long been recognized as the true solution to homelessness, and lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness.

Check out our two recently released reports:

Will you also sign this petition to call on the mayor of San Francisco to end family homelessness, at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/end-childhood-homelessness?source=c.em.mt&r_by=13066949?

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, 468 Turk St., San Francisco, www.cohsf.org, can be reached at 415-346-3740, ext. 306, or jfriedenbach@cohsf.org.