Eight adults and a minor child were charged by police in El Cajon, California, for breaking a city rule against the public sharing of food. The city’s rule was intended to help curb the spread of Hepatitis A, a viral disease plaguing areas of California, and those charged were, in part, protesting the rule’s effects on the poor and the homeless, according a BBC report dated January 15, 2018.
Nine people in California have been charged after they handed out food to the homeless, violating a rule about sharing food in public places.
The group were protesting an emergency ordinance in the city of El Cajon which was introduced in response to California’s hepatitis A outbreak.
They handed out food, clothes and toiletries on Sunday before police arrived and issued citations.
Local media report that El Cajon City Council passed the ordinance in October. It prohibits food sharing on any city-owned property. The authorities say it is a safety measure against hepatitis A, but opponents argue it unfairly penalises the city’s homeless.
Police wrote a citation for a child who was among the volunteers, according to NBC San Diego. “I was passing out food and this guy was like can you step aside please,” 14-year-old Ever Parmley said.
Hepatitis A can be spread by touching contaminated foods or objects. There is a vaccine for Hepatitis A.
An El Cahon councilman spoke out on the issue, expressing the opinion that feeding the homeless outside in parks during the hepatitis outbreak is not a good idea, and that those wishing to help should take hungry persons home with them to feed them and offer them sanitary facilities. Relief work is typically done in a neutral, public location for safety reasons.
Below is an excerpt from a Jan. 2018 article in SFWeekly about San Francisco, CA’s efforts to address the homelessness problem that has been growing at an alarming rate in that city.
The city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, organized in 2016, issued a report in October of last year identifying key goals.
The report says “Our vision is to make homelessness a rare, brief, and one-time event. Our aim is a significant, sustained reduction in homelessness in San Francisco.” and describes a “‘Housing Ladder’ that consists of temporary shelter, followed by rapid rehousing and rental subsidies, and permanent supportive housing until individuals are able to stay housed on their own,” echoing many measures also being evaluated by the Brunswick County Homeless Coalition.
San Francisco is not the only city grappling with the presence of tents on its streets and sidewalks. In Brussels, where approximately 2,600 individuals lack adequate shelter, camping tents are forbidden — but one canny do-gooder wants to help people make it through the Belgian capital’s wet, chilly winter with foldable, reusable cardboard tents manufactured at a prison.
That’s hardly an ideal solution in the long-term, of course, and no matter how cleverly it might be designed and packaged, cardboard makes for a less-than-dignified wall to keep out the elements. But it indicates the creative lengths people will go to to make life a bit easier for the unhoused in the face of municipal resistance.
San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, organized in 2016, has goals to change this sorry state of affairs, and they’re more ambitious than distributing cardboard. After the 2017 Point-in-Time Count estimated there were some 7,500 people experiencing homelessness citywide — of which 2,100 were considered chronically homeless, i.e. “people who have been living on the streets or in shelter for a year or more and have disabilities or health conditions that make it difficult for them to gain and retain housing” — the department’s 68-page October report reiterated a few key goals.
“Our vision is to make homelessness a rare, brief, and one-time event,” it reads. “Our aim is a significant, sustained reduction in homelessness in San Francisco.”
To do so, the department breaks up the homeless population into various demographic components, with specific targets for each. Among the notable ambitions are a commitment to making sure all families with children have shelter by December 2018 and permanent housing by December 2021, a 50-percent reduction in chronic homelessness by December 2022, and, perhaps the loftiest, eliminating large-scale street encampments by July 2019. There are other, more inward-facing goals as well, such as “Implement performance accountability across all programs and systems by December 2019.”
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, says the city has done good work on a few fronts so far, particularly in finding permanent housing for veterans, although funding commitments from Obama administration helped.
There is also concern that, as the July 2019 deadline for getting rid of large-scale encampments looms, pressure could mount to simply sweep them away for the sake of the timetable. Friedenbach notes that the city struggles with the minority of unhoused people who are severely mentally ill, and for whom neither shelters nor navigation centers are viable options. Still, the department report lays out in great detail the investments the city is making to meet its goals, which includes a “Housing Ladder” that consists of temporary shelter, followed by rapid rehousing and rental subsidies, and permanent supportive housing until individuals are able to stay housed on their own.
“From our perspective, any pre-development land that’s just going to be sitting there for a few years — let’s use it so homeless people have some safe and dignified space to be able to sleep,” Friedenbach says. “We need a diverse system. For some folks, the more institutionalized shelters are very comforting for them. They like having security guards, that feels really safe, they like having all the structure. It can feel more relaxing. For other folks, that feels really oppressive, and it’s not going to work — and the looser structure of a navigation center is better. And we just need more capacity in terms of beds.”