By Lorena Boswell
What happens when you need to sleep and have nowhere legal to do so? Should you be ticketed? fined? jailed?
In Santa Barbara in 2001 the Calif. State Appeals Court ruled that although David Ridley and Julie Cooper broke the no camping law, they did so “by necessity” as there was no legal place for them to sleep. They therefore did not have to pay their camping tickets. This ground-breaking “Necessity” ruling has set the precedent for mandates to ensure adequate shelter is available in all major locales. When a location does not have enough shelter, an official shelter crisis can be declared.
Locally Dane Carr, a Eureka resident on trial for nine tickets for sleeping on public property, was sentenced in January to 140 days in jail plus fees and fines. Currently he is free awaiting appeal. During Carr’s eight-day trial, a jury was persuaded that Carr could have stayed at a local shelter.
Humboldt County has over 1,500 homeless and only several hundred shelter beds. To me, the numbers just don’t add up. Nor do they to the ACLU and the Human Rights Commission, who have asked the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to declare a shelter crisis (see p.1).
While the numbers give us a summary, I implore everyone to remember that behind these numbers human beings with very different and uniquely compelling stories. I hear them every day I sit down with people to work on this paper.
Many have limited income like Gregg Allen (see p.4) but can’t save enough for the large deposits most landlords require. Some like Grateful (p. 4) have families and friends who can offer islands of relief before having to swim back out into the storm. Some like Cents (p.1) are arrested for squatting in abandoned buildings and dream of creating sanctuaries in these spaces.
Some are dealing with sketchy situations. Like the mold infested trailer with the sagging, leaky roof, whose newly housed tenant is grateful to have a roof over her head. She has already moved more often than she can count into sketchy situations (some better, some worse, some just differently problematic) and has to choose once again whether to stay in this uncomfortable situation or to move back into her car.
Finding a stable, sane place to live when you’ve been living in unstable situations is not easy, even for this bright, articulate, well-mannered middle aged woman. There are simply not enough affordable housing opportunities or living wage jobs.
A Former Republican (p.5), used to believe that people should just take care of themselves. He expresses his gratitude for the Arcata Night Shelter which kept him from having to spread his legal documents out on a park bench, trying to make decisions about his life while he dealt with a lawyer and a court case.
Others, like LeeAnne, (in cover story), have service dogs without papers that are not allowed in the shelters. Some don’t have IDs so they can’t stay at the Rescue Mission. Some stay in violent situations to have a roof over their head. Others choose to leave the abuse to sleep by the river. At least they still have their teeth and their sanity. Some don’t even have that.
California AB 5, a Homeless Bill of Rights, was proposed to extend basic human rights to people who are homeless. If you are by necessity sleeping on an empty space of concrete or by the railroad tracks, you should not be awakened in the middle of the night where you are not disturbing anyone and told to move. When you are sleep-deprived everything is more difficult to manage.
AB5 never made it out of committee. So we need to put our heads together as a community to solve the crisis at our front door, in our backyard, and under our bushes. How do we provide safe, affordable places for our homeless/houseless? Let’s look at our law enforcement policies and at established examples of successful programs in our community and others, like the ones LeeAnne mentions (p.6) that not only provide a safe warm place to sleep, but also provide counseling and classes to help people get back on their feet.