Here’s another hot topic in the issue of local homelessness policy that I didn’t include in my story Wednesday. The city of San Diego is looking at ways it might again be able to ticket people for sleeping on the streets.

Mark Keith and Merrilee Williams live together in a tent in downtown San Diego. ‘We both want the same thing,’ Keith says. ‘We want to get out of here.’ Photo: Sam Hodgson

Some background: The city has a law against sleeping on the streets between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., and used to regularly ticket people for breaking that law. That is until 2007 when the city settled a lawsuit claiming that because it did not have enough shelter beds for the 4,000 people who live on the streets, it was cruel and unusual punishment to deprive them of a biological right — sleep — by ticketing them.

Now, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and other city officials have a new idea. Instead of calculating the ratio of homeless people to beds citywide, they would divide the city into zones. So people sleeping on the streets in zones where there are enough open shelter beds for them, could be ticketed if they refuse to go to the shelter.

“Many of them don’t want a bed, many of them don’t want services — they need to be shown that this is a better alternative,” said Goldsmith, who said he lives downtown and comes across homeless people every day. “You increase the beds and increase the services, you get to enforce your laws. Right now it’s difficult to do that.”

CityBeat’s Kelly Davis wrote about this zone idea this week, and included some comments from Scott Dreher, one of the attorneys who sued the city:

If business owners and residents want police to enforce illegal-lodging laws within their portion of the grid, they’d have to be willing to contribute to a solution.

“You approach the people in these squares and you say, ‘For this two- or four-block area, if you do this, we’ll agree to reinstate the ticketing in that area only,’” Dreher said. “So, eventually, you follow the squares in the grid and you cover Downtown.”

What would be required from the business owners and residents nearby? That’s unclear, but it could mean they lend moral or financial support to having a shelter in their zone of the city.

Kevin Faulconer, a city councilman whose district includes the downtown core, has participated in discussions about the idea and wants it to be applied citywide. “Having tents spring up on your sidewalks downtown is not acceptable,” he said. My colleague Adrian Florido wrote about those tents recently.


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