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Pauli Halstead: Housing, not handcuffs, for homeless

Other Voices
Pauli Halstead

“The use of the criminal justice system to punish those whose only crime is being poor and without housing is not worthy of our great nation. It is unconstitutional and, moreover, it is bad public policy.

“Such policies only reinforce and strengthen the vicious cycle that entrap too many of our fellow citizens in poverty and homelessness. It is time — indeed, it is past time — for this to end. The negative, long term impact of these policies on our society and on individual Americans is real, incalculable, and unnecessary.” — National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

“U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development In 2015, (HUD) inserted a new question into its application for the $2 billion Continuum of Care (CoC) funding stream, giving local governments and providers’ higher scores, and potentially increased funding, if they demonstrate they are preventing the criminalization of homelessness.

“In 2016 and 2017, this question was updated with increased points and more specifics of steps CoCs could take. Additionally, HUD officials have repeatedly stated to communities, including those engaged in the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, that achieving the goals of the challenge will be difficult or impossible if they continue to engage in criminalization practices.” — Criminalization of Homelessness

I also recommend an amnesty of what has happened in the past and wipe the slate clean for camping and loitering infractions and fines that have occurred.

Here is a list of ways cities are criminalizing homelessness in their “no camping” ordinances. Tickets are being issues and fines given for: camping in public, sleeping in public, begging, loitering, loafing and vagrancy laws, sitting or lying down, living in vehicles, food sharing and storing personal belongings in public spaces.

I am strongly suggesting that the Nevada/Placer Homeless Resources Council of the Sierras be more proactive in working with Nevada County Law enforcement, elected officials, and city staffs to create a written policy regarding criminalization and what law enforcement and jurisdictions can and cannot do.

I also recommend an amnesty of what has happened in the past and wipe the slate clean for camping and loitering infractions and fines that have occurred. We need to get current with HUD guidelines, and push the “reset” button.

It seems neither the county or the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City want to create safe and managed camping areas, so we cannot, at the same time ticket and fine people when no alternative has been provided. This is something that I believe falls under the purview of HRCS to remedy since they are collecting federal funds under the assumption that they are doing the outreach to law enforcement, and local elected officials to educate on these matters

We can do better. I am encouraging law enforcement, city staff, and county supervisors to participate in the monthly Homeless Resources Council of the Sierra’s monthly meeting so we can all draft a county-wide safe camping program.

It will be awhile before we can get our Navigation Center up and running, or some low-income supportive and transitional housing built.

In the meantime, we can do things that will make life easier on our overburdened police departments and safer for our communities and be in compliance with HUD policy.

Pauli Halstead lives in Nevada City.


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