A vehicle representing vehicle habitation.

Vehicle Habitation Ordinance San Diego

The San Diego City Council considered an ordinance Tuesday, May 14, 2019, that would place a limited ban on residents sleeping overnight or living in their cars within city limits. According to ABC 10 News, “The ordinance would make it illegal for residents to sleep in their vehicles from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. or at any time within 500 feet of a school, excluding colleges and universities, or a place of residence. The ordinance considers residents to be living in their vehicle if they use it for things like sleeping, bathing or preparing meals.” 

Comments on Memo and Ordinance from Dr. Teresa Smith, CEO – Dreams for Change

First, we believe an ordinance around vehicle habitation is not even necessary. Existing ordinances already cover the issues identified around vehicle habitation (oversized vehicles, littering, drug use, etc.). Existing laws should be enforced to address the issues. The physical act of sleeping and being in a vehicle does not cause harm to the community. Yes, there are health concerns related to individuals residing in their vehicles. The health concerns we generally see across the population is circulation issues related to sleeping sitting, bed bugs bites, malnutrition, and general illnesses such as a cold are more difficult to manage. The health concerns faced by individuals residing in their vehicle are minimal to health concerns of living on the streets without the safety and barrier of their vehicle.

The memo proposed by Councilmembers Ward, Montgomery and Sherman does attempt to address some of the concerns with the proposed ordinance and the appearance of criminalizing homelessness. The vehicle permitting system is a unique solution to provide an opportunity for individuals to not be subjected to a progressive ticketing process that only impedes their ability to move forward. Area’s identified for such purposes will need to include restroom facilities, and garbage disposal to avoid unwanted waste disposal. A map to the nearest 24-hour restroom is not sufficed because there are not 24-hour public restrooms available in each district. To my knowledge, the beaches are the only actual restrooms with a couple of portables in the downtown area. The recommendation for violators’ diversion plan referral can provide relief and opportunity for program engagement and would have more long-term cost savings from the diversion versus ticketing that leads to incarceration. The final recommendation of the time change is vital. I assume the proposed time of 6:00 pm was to align with the opening time that we had determined as best practice for program start. What is mistaken though is that we found having a window between 6-9:30 for participant arrival is actually more feasible for both the program and participants. First, if all program participants arrived right at 6:00 we anticipate following issues will occur with some already have occurring when we have had too many arrive right at 6:00:

  1. Unsafe traffic patterns with 30+ vehicles trying to arrive at the same time.
  2. Vehicles will gather right outside the program site waiting for a 6:00 opening to avoid potential penalties.
  3. Program staff has a better opportunity to greet and address the client’s immediate needs as they stagger arrive.
  4. New enrollments can have the proper time and focus.
  5. Participants could not participate in community activities and/or work that occurs in the evening time.

The change to a 9:00 timeframe would help alleviate some of these issues and concerns.

Beyond the timeframe, our other concern with the ordinance is the 500 feet restrictions to residential and school areas. This conveys a message those who are in vehicles are not truly people or residences and must be banished to restricted areas deemed as commercial. Additionally, this can prevent a person from visiting family and friends, churches (which are often in residential areas), parks and services (our office is next to Father Joe’s living residence, health centers are located in residential areas, etc.) Additionally, the ordinance as written would prevent parents from being engaged in their kids’ schools to the point of not being able to take or pick up kids to school.

Upon reviewing the options the council can take regarding this ordinance, we feel the best option is to send it back to committee to fully incorporated the recommended suggestions from Ward, Montgomery, and Sherman. My concern with moving the ordinance forward as written with potential for future amendments, or only changing the times will relieve the City from implementing recommended suggestions of permitting, diversion and timing. Unfortunately, the city does not have a good track record of following through in meaningful ways, and the fear is this issue would join other failed policies that were developed under “good intentions”.

We strongly urge the council to send the ordinance back to committee to incorporate the recommended suggestions to eliminate future potential costly litigations and to ensure the ordinance is written to support solutions to the issues and not leave it up to the city administration to potentially enacted recommended suggestions and solutions.

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