ILLEGAL CAMPSITES AND HOMELESSNESS
ILLEGAL CAMPSITES AND HOMELESSNESS IN LINCOLN
The Lincoln Police Department has received a number of calls recently about the illegal campsites near the Auburn Ravine Dog Park off of Moore Road. Questions included:
Can’t you just run them out of town?
No, we cannot run them out of town. Homelessness in and of itself is not a crime. A federal court decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that local governments may not enforce ordinances prohibiting camping on public property. The Court ruled the cruel and unusual punishments clause of the eighth amendment precludes enforcement relative to activities that are “universal and unavoidable consequences of being human,” such as sitting, lying down, or sleeping, if the local government does not have enough indoor shelter space to accommodate each and every homeless person in its jurisdiction. Without sufficient shelter space, the City is prohibited from citing or arresting anyone merely sleeping on public property.
Criminal activity for which citations or arrest can occur arise out of conduct and activities that are illegal regardless of who is engaged in the activity, such as using or selling drugs, assaulting or injuring another person, obstructing public rights-of-way, making threats, or damaging public or private property.
We can arrest homeless individuals when we catch them breaking the law; however, the majority of crimes being committed are by law misdemeanors, in which case we are generally required to issue a citation with a promise to appear in court, rather than book them into the jail. Unfortunately, most of the individuals to whom citations are issued are mentally ill or drug addicted, and a citation does not concern them. It costs the City $630 for each misdemeanor booking above the City’s previous three-year average, and the jail then simply releases the individual based upon their promise to appear in court, just like we do in the field on a cite release. Booking an individual also takes a police officer off the streets for approximately one hour for the transport.
Why don’t you just take a dump truck down there and clean it up?
We cannot simply take a dump truck down into the ravine. First, the City is required by law to post the campsite with a notice that it is illegal. Then, we must give the campers 72 hours to clean up their belongings and leave. Next, we need to assemble a team of Police Officers, Public Works and/or private hauling company employees, Probation Officers, Health and Human Resources Staff, and representatives from a homeless shelter. This is time-consuming, difficult and expensive. The camps mentioned today are on private property so we must work with the owners and their representatives, which we are currently doing. Then, and only then, can we abate an illegal campsite.
The City understands these encampments pose public health and safety risks, and can threaten Lincoln’s valuable ecological resources in its ravines, creeks and open spaces. The City also is burdened with increased costs of service due to the need to frequently remove trash, debris and other hazardous materials from public areas, and respond to the risk of fire from outdoor cooking activities.
Surrounding jurisdictions such as Rocklin, Roseville and Placer County have far more resources by way of dollars and police officers than Lincoln, so the homeless are more comfortable in Lincoln because there is less pressure on them to change their behaviors. With our current resources and the laws written the way they are in California, Lincoln is not going to be able to simply arrest its way out of this problem.
The needs of the most recalcitrant homeless are beyond the services that can be provided by law enforcement alone. This is not just a police or city staff problem, this is a community concern. The City needs partners in the community who are willing to play a cooperative role in responding to these encampments. The City also needs partners who are willing to be proactive and work to create opportunities for willing individuals to lift themselves out of homelessness.
The City is developing several such programs and opportunities that will be rolled out in the next several months, but they will not be successful without the community’s support and involvement. We hope you are willing to be partner with the City and be part of the solution.
Please see the video clip from the City Council meeting on June 11th, in which we discussed the challenges we face.
While complying with the above-listed challenges, on June 14th Lincoln Police personnel facilitated an abatement of illegal campsites in the Auburn Ravine on the North side of Highway 193. These camps were posted with the required notices the previous week. With the help of a private landscape company, over 40 yards of trash was removed. One large homemade tent had an active campfire burning inside.
We also arrested 42-year-old Joshua Sovenski, who was found sleeping in a stolen vehicle. Several other transients were advised that they were on private property and subject to arrest for trespassing if they returned.