Friday, August 11, 2017

Making Bricks Without Straw

Quality of Life Ordinances Give Quality to None

On Tuesday, Aug 8, 2017 the Santa Rosa City Council, staff and Police moved forward with increased penalties for offenses frequently charged to people who are homeless.  The offenses were labeled “quality of life ordinances.”  Although citizen outrage was strong and loud, 6 of the 7 councilmembers agreed.  

Quality-of-life ordinances are seen to be strong medicine. Advocates for the homeless found it to be an effective emetic.

The phrase "Making bricks without straw" * comes to mind hearing how much is being taken away from those who are homeless, making their lives more miserable, despite homeless advocates' protestations. What is becoming my only hope in this situation is that the courts will deliver, "with a strong hand and an outstretched arm", the justice we cannot seem to.

When did the police become a "tool in the toolbox" of the city council? How has that point of view become prevalent among them? What in the make up of the council allows this bias towards the use of police force to solve social problems? Where does this easy coziness come from? The police are to serve the law and justice, not to be the strong arm of a weak council.

It will not work. Though these are called quality-of-life ordinances they are clearly aimed at the homeless as a group. Why else the need for increased enforcement? Are there more tourists crapping in alleyways and storefronts? Are more college students sleeping on park benches and in underpasses? Are grandmothers panhandling again? Of course not. It is that other group. These are plain old vagrancy laws from the 1930’s. This time the sign 'No bums allowed. Keep moving', is not posted publicly. The homeless are not vagrants. 86 percent of them are Sonoma County residents on hard times.

When there are so many other possible courses of action, why would the city council choose the one with so much legal risk attached to it? Why do they call upon themselves the "strong hand and an outstretched arm" of the courts? How much better it would be if they chose to just be nice and neighborly? It is so much more cost effective. Who has given them this poor and questionable legal advice to follow a path that will only lead to court? And has not that outcome already been decided when in Boise, Idaho, 2015, the Justice Department warned that local laws criminalizing homelessness could violate the Constitution's protections against cruel and unusual punishment? And the more recent 2016 9th District Court case, Cobine vs. Eureka Police Dept., where among other things it was found, "The Court recognizes the public interest of protecting the public health and safety as well as preserving the environment and affording the City the benefits of a nature trail. The Court also, however, recognizes the public interest in maintaining the protections afforded by the Constitution to those most in need of such protection.  The Court finds the public interest weighs in favor of Plaintiffs." Referencing another case they said, “Unlike monetary injuries, constitutional violations cannot be adequately remedied through damages and therefore generally constitute irreparable harm.” You can see the rabbit hole we are about to go down if we follow this transparently discriminatory city policy.

Look, the business owners are right, it is wrong and a shame that in Santa Rosa people must defecate in alleys, parks, and store fronts. The homeless are right when they say nobody wants to do that, but in extremis where else is there? And when does that act become a protest to an outrageous state of being? Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin said, "When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him."

This situation was not created by the homeless. This is what happens when a city council fails to respond adequately to a serious social crisis. This friction, this conflict, is in large part of their making. We did not blame the victims of Katrina in 2005. We rightly held our ineffectual public servants to account.

There are many more fair and just solutions that will relieve both sides of the dispute. Public toilets are an obvious start. Yet former mayor Sawyer said of them, “We'll have to look into that at a future date. I don't even know where we would find the room for them”. With such a flippant, inconsiderate attitude to such a longstanding issue there will be no solutions forthcoming from this city council. They have proved themselves clearly inadequate to the task. Short of a true conversion on their part the courts will need to be summoned to bring justice to this targeted class of citizens. Justice will not come from the Santa Rosa Police Department, the city's choice tool. Let the following be a hint of the undesired, costly, and time consuming outcome for the city and police. In the case of Cobine, remedies included:

a. Defendants must provide emergency shelter, not at the City-owned parking lot located at the corner of Washington and Koster Streets, for all eleven Plaintiffs beginning on Monday, May 2, 2016.  Such provision is not indefinite and Plaintiffs' stay at any emergency shelter within the City of Eureka shall be subject to the rules and limitations of such shelter.

b. Defendants must abide by the following procedures with respect to Plaintiffs' personal property and belongings:

i. 96-gallon tote(s) shall be provided for each individual Plaintiff to use for the purpose of storing their personal belongings, with said totes to be provided in sufficient numbers for Plaintiffs to store all of their personal belongings;

ii. Each tote container, once packed, closed, and labeled, shall be locked with a padlock or lock of similar quality provided by Defendants, unless Plaintiffs wish to provide their own locks for securing their individual tote containers;

iii. Defendants shall provide identification tags to Plaintiffs for each 96-gallon tote and each larger item stored outside of a tote to allow Plaintiffs to label their belongings for later retrieval from storage;

iv. In the event that certain items belonging to Plaintiffs can be placed inside a 96-gallon tote, but are too large to permit the tote to be closed and locked, Defendants shall wrap or cover the tote and any protruding items with plastic or similar material before labeling and storage;

v. Defendants shall permit Plaintiffs to maintain custody of all items they require for their daily lives (e.g., clothing, toiletries, books, items of sentimental importance, etc.) and wish to bring with them to their emergency shelter accommodations, as well as their pets and/or service animals (to be housed on-site at the temporary shelter at which Plaintiffs will be accommodated in accordance with shelter rules) and shall not confiscate, impound, store and/or destroy such items;

vi. Defendants shall refrain from discarding or destroying any items belonging to Plaintiffs for any reason, unless Plaintiffs fail to claim and retrieve such items after they have been stored by Defendants for 90 days;

vii. Defendants shall transport all of Plaintiffs' personal belongings (including but not limited to all items stored in 96-gallon tote containers and all larger items unable to fit in 96-gallon tote containers) to the location where they are to be stored; and

viii. Defendants shall store Plaintiffs' personal belongings, packed and labeled in accordance with the provisions of this Paragraph, in one or more locked Conex storage containers to be located in the North 40 parking lot at the Bayshore Mall or at the City of Eureka Corp Yard.
The Conex storage containers in which Plaintiffs' personal belongings are stored shall be used only to store items belonging to Plaintiffs, and not any other persons residing at the Palco March on May 2, 2016.

ix. Plaintiffs' personal belongings shall be stored by defendants for a period of no less than 90 days, at Defendants' expense, unless Plaintiffs request to claim and retrieve those items sooner.  At the expiration of this 90-day period, subject to any further orders of this Court, Defendants may dispose of any items that remain unclaimed by Plaintiffs.

There are so many other better, kinder, and more acceptable answers to our problems.

* from Wikipedia: Bricks without straw

In Exodus 5, Moses and Aaron [homeless advocates], meet with Pharaoh [city council] and deliver God's message, "Let my people go". Pharaoh [the city council] not only refuses but punishes the Israelites [the homeless of Santa Rosa]  by telling his overseers [SRPD], "Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves", but still requiring the same daily output of bricks as before. The Israelites [homeless] complain to Moses and Aaron that they have now made things worse for them, and Moses in turn complains to God that every time he has gone to Pharaoh [the city council] on behalf of the Israelites [homeless], things have gotten worse for them. God replies to Moses [ homeless advocate] that the time will come when Pharaoh [the city  council] will actually drive the Israelites [homeless] out of Egypt; and that on behalf of his covenant  with the Patriarchs [Founding Fathers], God [the courts] will redeem the Israelites [homeless] "with a strong hand and an outstretched arm", so that they will know him.

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