Ashante Jones talks with an SFPD officer outside his tent space while San Francisco Department of Public Works and San Francisco Police sweep the homeless encampment along Division Street in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Jessica Christian/ S.F. Examiner)

Ashante Jones talks with an SFPD officer outside his tent space while San Francisco Department of Public Works and San Francisco Police sweep the homeless encampment along Division Street in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Jessica Christian/ S.F. Examiner)

SF’s sit-lie law may be told to take a hike

San Francisco police officers should stop citing homeless residents for sleeping on streets or in other public spaces.

That’s because enforcing such crimes that break “quality-of-life” laws is costing The City at least $20.6 million annually and is not actually reducing the number of people living on the streets, according to a report from the Budget Analyst released Wednesday.

To view the report click here.

The report recommends the police cease enforcement of laws that criminalize the homeless, which has increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2015, enforcement of “quality-of-life” laws increased by 35 percent.

Instead, non-law enforcement city agencies should respond to these “quality-of-life” incidents, including the new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing that’s expected to open July 1.

“Quality of life” laws have remained a point of legal contention as more cities seek to adopt them in response to growing homeless populations. San Francisco has 36 of such laws, including the sit-lie law (which prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks), no sleeping in public parks at night and no building of encampments.

Supervisor Eric Mar requested the report in collaboration with the Coalition on Homelessness following Mayor Ed Lee’s recent call for a crackdown citywide of encampments, which critics have rebuked as an inhumane strategy.

Jennifer Friedenbach, the coalition’s executive director, said the millions of dollars spent on “criminalizing people forced to sleep on the streets would be much better spent on housing.”

The Police alone spent at least $18 million between January 2015 and November 2015 related to 60,491 quality-of-life incidents involving the homeless, including 8,053 sit-lie incidents. In 2013, there were 44,863 quality-of-life homeless incidents, of which 7,135 involved the sit-lie law.

The basis for the report’s recommendation to cease enforcement emphasizes the ineffectiveness of such policies.

“Police officers are not trained to evaluate the complex needs of a homeless individual or to directly connect them with the social services provided by The City,” the report states.

Additionally, while “one of the main goals of quality-of-life laws was to preserve public spaces,” the unsheltered homeless population increased from 3,016 in 2011 to 3,505 in 2015, a 16 percent growth.

How The City can best allocate its resources was also questioned in the report.

“Because of the high cost of police resources, the current use of police resources to respond to quality of life incidents relating to the homeless will continue to generate high costs for The City,” the report states.

Last year, at least 4,711 — or 8 percent — of the some 60,000 incidents resulted in a citation of homeless persons. The police could not track citations by housing status, according to the report, which instead relied upon incomplete Department of Emergency Management data to determine if a homeless person was cited.

The confirmed number of homeless cited is a small fraction of the total quality-of-life citations issued by police officers. For example, between January 2015 and September 2015 alone, police issued a total of 20,796 citations for quality-of-life laws, which includes both homeless and housed persons.

Of the total incidents, police arrested 125 people and, when responding to calls, couldn’t locate alleged violators in 15,164 incidents.

The costs include $1.8 million for DEM to respond to calls and $188,777 for two park patrol officers to enforce the no sleeping or camping in the parks at night law. Park patrol officers issued 1,811 citations for sleeping or camping in parks during fiscal year 2014-15.

Some homeless cited for quality of life citations are even ending up in jail, the report found. Of the more than 2,000 homeless persons jailed in 2014, 132 homeless persons were charged with solely quality-of-life violations and served a total of 189 days in jail, according to the report.

Not only can the laws adversely affect homeless residents, but their legality remains a subject of dispute nationwide.

In August 2015, the Justice Department weighed in on a lawsuit against a Boise, Idaho law banning sleeping and camping in public, arguing such laws violate a person’s Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless,” the DOJ filing said.
Board of SupervisorsCoalition on HomelessnessCrimeDepartment of Homelessness and Supportive HousingEighth AmendmentEric Marhomelesspolice- sit-liePoliticsquality-of-lifeSan Francisco

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