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Bipartisan bill to ban homeless encampments near California schools, parks fails

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(The Center Square) – A California bill that would have banned homeless encampments near sensitive sites such as schools and, when local shelter space is available, on sidewalks, failed in committee.

SB 1011, authored by State Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, and with principal co-author State Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, failed in committee despite early broad bipartisan support. The two state senators hail from San Diego, a city that implemented a similar measure under Democratic Mayor Todd Gloria that has been considered “extremely successful.”

“Our bipartisan SB 1011 would have provided a compassionate solution for clearing homeless encampments, ensuring both the safety of our community and the dignity of homeless individuals,” said Jones in a statement. “This is not a partisan issue, which is why we have Democrats, Republicans, homeless advocates, and mental health experts in support of this bill.”

Citing the success of San Diego’s measure, Blakespear said she is “disappointed that this bipartisan legislation, which is modeled on a program that is working well in the City of San Diego, is not moving forward this year.”

SB 1011 would have broadly prohibited camping within 500 feet of schools, open spaces, or transit stops, and, when homeless shelter space is available, on sidewalks as well. Those in violation of the measure would be presented with “information regarding alternative locations to sleep, homeless and mental health services, or homeless shelters in the area” at least 72 hours before the clearing of an encampment. Individuals who refuse to move could, at the discretion of a prosecutor, be charged with an infraction or a misdemeanor, though with the state’s prosecution backlog of more serious crimes such as theft, such action likely would not be taken.

Lead opposition from the Western Center on Law and Poverty shared concerns that the bill does not solve homelessness and is anti-black, and called for stipends for the homeless and the construction of more housing.

“We have seen it is ineffective in LA, and the people in San Diego were not housed, they were displaced,” said Brandon Green, Western Center’s Director of Public Advocacy told the State Senate Public Safety Committee. “It costs less to provide people experiencing homelessness with a stipend…It’s anti-black; black people and people of color are over-represented in the unhoused population and the criminal legal system, and this bill would exacerbate both. We know the solution to homelessness is more homes and more affordable housing.”

State Sen. Kelly Seyarto, R-Murietta, who serves on the committee and represents parts of San Diego, said in the hearing, “When a public space becomes a homeless encampment, it is no longer a public space … that area should be available to everybody, including people who are homeless, that want to come and enjoy that public space and then move on.”

In response to Seyarto, Public Safety Committee Chair Aisha Wahab, D-Hayward, said, “The reality is our homeless population is not homeless because of the fact that they necessarily have an issue.” She then cited 2022 Alameda County’s homelessness count and survey, which she said found 49% of homeless respondents said rent assistance would have prevented them from becoming homeless.

11 state senators served as co-authors on the bill, including Democrats Blakespear, Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa. The bill failed to exit committee on a 1-3 vote, with only Seyarto voting in favor of the measure.