A sweeping “bill of rights” for the homeless has cleared its first hurdle, and if it survives the rest of the state Legislature it could wipe out The City’s controversial sit-lie ordinance.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s legislation navigated the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, passing in a 7-2 vote. The bill would allow homeless people in California to sit, sleep and panhandle on public property without facing penalties from law enforcement, negating the sit-lie ordinance approved by San Francisco voters in 2010.
“This bill calls for the immediate end of criminalizing homelessness,” Coalition on Homelessness organizer Lisa Marie Alatorre said. “We need to stop allowing that to be our response to economic problems.”
If passed, the bill also would require the state government to pay for the establishment of 24-hour “health and hygiene centers” with showers and restrooms, and provide legal counsel for anyone cited under anti-vagrancy laws while giving the homeless the right to decline admittance to public and private shelters or other social services.
But sit-lie ordinances would be enforceable if strict criteria are met: the county provides adequate welfare assistance, the city isn’t identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as an area of concentrated unemployment, and the county’s public housing waiting list contains fewer than 50 people.
The amended version of the bill dropped a controversial provision that would have legalized public urination by the homeless.
The legislation by Ammiano, D-San Francisco, faces opposition from proponents of The City’s sit-lie ordinance who insist that it would undermine the voice of the electorate.
“The Civil Sidewalks Ordinance in San Francisco is part of the law. If you don’t like it, come back and change it,” Haight Ashbury Improvement Association President Ted Loewenberg said. “Don’t try to go around it and pass a bogus measure.”
Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, one of two members of the Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill Tuesday, said sit-lie issues should be left in the hands of municipalities.
“The homeless situation in San Francisco is going to be very much different from the homeless situation in Fresno, Los Angeles or central Orange County,” he said. “By Sacramento passing this law, it doesn’t allow those cities to fix their own problems.”
Wagner said he would be more inclined to support a bill that offered solutions to homelessness.
“All the bill does is say leave the homeless alone,” he said. “It doesn’t say help them get a home, help them get shelter, help them get a job.”
But Alatorre said the problem will not be fixed if sit-lie ordinances continue to be enforced.
“It’s about shifting the dialogue so we can start talking about the root causes of homelessness,” she said.