For the past few weeks, the Roseburg Police Department and the homeless residents of that community have been in conflict. Reports in the local media claim that the police have been contacted by residents claiming that their homeless neighbors are causing all kinds of problems, even driving away business in the dowtown area. Reports by Occupy assert that instead of finding a humanitarian way to deal with the problem, the police have started rousting and hasseling our fellow citizens who find shelter under city bridges.
Some of the recent encounters have resulted in tickets being issued for “acts of living” violations such as the City of Roseburg’g “no camping” ordiance. Although still a tactic of local governing bodies, these “acts of living” laws have been denounced by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. After many years of trying to crimilize homelessness, this failed social policy is now being address. Unfortunately, Roseburg is a bit behind the times.
Below is a copy of an email I sent on behalf of CEA to the Roseburg City Council, Mayor, Manager & Chief of Police. It provides not only a quote from the Council on Homeless recently released report, it also provides a link where all can access the report and more information. There are a lot of good ideas about how we can come together as a commnity to address the problems that we all encounter when some of us have to live on the streets.
April 23, 2012
City of Roseburg email@example.com
Mayor Larry Rich firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilor Ken Averett email@example.com
Councilor Melissa Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilor Steve Tuchscherer email@example.com
Councilor Tom Ryan firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilor Rick Coen email@example.com
Councilor Bob Cotterell firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilor Michael Baker email@example.com
Councilor Steve Kaser firstname.lastname@example.org
Police Chief Jim Burge email@example.com
Manager Eric Swanson firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Roseburg City Council, Mayor, Manager and Police Chief Burge:
In recent years, the United States has seen the proliferation of local measures to criminalize “acts of living” laws that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces. City, town, and county officials are turning to criminalization measures in an effort to broadcast a zero-tolerance approach to street homelessness and to temporarily reduce the visibility of homelessness in their communities. Although individuals experiencing homelessness should be afforded the same dignity, compassion, and support provided to others, criminalization policies further marginalize men and women who are experiencing homelessness, fuel inflammatory attitudes, and may even unduly restrict constitutionally protected liberties. Moreover, there is ample evidence that alternatives to criminalization policies can adequately balance the needs of all parties. Community residents, government agencies, businesses, and men and women who are experiencing homelessness are better served by solutions that do not marginalize people experiencing homelessness, but rather strike at the core factors contributing to homelessness.
Criminalization policies are costly and consume substantial state and local resources. In today’s economic climate, it is important for state, county, and local entities to invest in programs that work rather than spend money on activities that are unlikely to achieve the desired result and which may, in some cases, open the jurisdiction to liability. In addition to the increase in public resources used to carry out these criminalization measures, Individuals who are arrested or fined for “act of living” crimes in public spaces now have a criminal record; resulting in barriers to work, and difficulty in receiving mainstream services and housing that often bar individuals with criminal histories. These policies are a temporary solution to street homelessness and create greater barriers for these individuals to exit homelessness successfully, providing neither a permanent or sustainable solution to homelessness.
The above are not my words. In fact, they were lifted intact from the Executive Summary of the recently released Searching Out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to Criminalizing of Homelessness by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. This 2012 document goes on to illustrate the reasons enforcing laws that prohibit trespassing on public property or local no camping ordinances and other “acts of living” laws fly in the face of good public policy. If the City of Roseburg is really trying to permanently address the problems that people living on the streets can cause the community, adopting some of the solutions proposed in the report would more likely result in accomplishing this goal than enforcing laws and policies that only tend to exacerbate the problem.
One of the solutions proffered by the Council on Homelesness is that law enforcement establish a true collaboration with service providers to develop specialized crisis intervention that can limit the number of arrests for non-violent offenses, as well as help “link individuals experiencing street homelessness with supportive housing and services to help individuals move off the street permanently.” I would also offer a suggestion that any partnerships include advocates for the homeless, not just those who provide social or human services to them.
If such a policy were in place now, the Roseburg Police Department, Occupy Roseburg and the homeless residents of Roseburg would be working with Social Service agencies to try to find temporary and permanent solutions to the concerns. One might argue that the harassment and rousting of homeless campers under the bridge recently might have been avoided if efforts had been made to try to deal with the concerns with that your department had with all stakeholders. Those objecting to your enforcement of “acts of living” rules may have been able to help you find alternatives, and, if not alternatives could be found, they may not be so critical of law enforcement efforts if they had been involved in the process all along.
Alternative justice system strategies are other recommendations of the Council on Homelessness. I believe that this alternative justice starts at the street level, before the person is given a citation, before he/she becomes part of the court (even municipal court) system. This is where individual police officers play a vital role. What an individual officer does can make the difference in whether someone gets labeled a criminal and the resulting consequences that may further reduce the person’s chances of ending the cycle of homelessness. What the driving philosophy of the Roseburg Police Department is on this issue can make a difference as well. Certainly the policy of the Roseburg City Council has an impact.
I am aware of some of the challenges any police department faces when left to deal with the results of a failed social policy that they did not create, nor can they solve. I can only imagine the stress that being stuck in the middle between demands of those who want the homeless gone and those who have no place to go creates among those who are hired to protect and serve all residents of the community. In fact, the troubling issue of homeless being virtually ignored at all levels of government leaves residents and police with little choice but to demand and implement (respectively) the draconian actions of recent past.
Unfortunately I cannot be there this evening to lend support to those who are advocating for the rights of the homeless. However, as a housing & civil liberties advocate, I encourage the Roseburg City Council to listen to the concerns of all sides, but recognize that the policies the City has had to date do little to end the problem of homelessness in the community.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Citizens Education & Advocacy (CEA)
1464 E. Central Ave.
Sutherlin, OR 97479]
Telephone: (541) 459-3099
Link: United States Interagency Council on Homelessness 2012 Report: http://www.usich.gov/issue/alternatives_to_criminalization