California Considers Adopting a Homeless Bill of Rights

The latest foolishness from Golden State lawmakers.

The Homeless Bill of Rights, the name applied to a new bill that recently soared through the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee on a 7-2 vote, is the latest in a long line of California legislation that has grabbed national attention for its sheer lunacy. At the current rate, California’s “differently sheltered” will be the only residents left with any rights.

Its worst provisions have been stripped away and I doubt the governor will sign something that so thoroughly offends city officials, but the proposal does epitomize the mock-worthy nature of so much of the thinking that dominates this state’s government. Legislators in all states introduce crazy stuff to make a point. But in California, these strange bills can actually make it to the governor’s desk.

The homeless bill’s author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), deserves credit for at least identifying a real problem, which is an oddity in a Legislature that usually avoids reality. Homelessness is rampant in California, and the troubled people who wander our streets often have nowhere to go as they get chased from one location to the next.

Homelessness is a vexing problem, but the solution is not to make the homeless a protected class of citizen with a constitutional right to urinate on sidewalks and accumulate piles of vermin-infested clothing in city parks. Instead of giving the homeless a place to live, the state government wants to give them taxpayer-subsidized lawyers.

The bill features overstated civil-rights-oriented language. It notes that California has “a long history of discriminatory laws and ordinances that have disproportionately affected people with low incomes.” The language refers to Jim Crow laws and anti-Okie laws.

Cities here struggle – sometimes clumsily and unfairly – with throngs of people who camp out in city parks and sleep on sidewalks and in doorways. There is a legitimate public issue here.

When I worked in a downtown Sacramento office building, my colleagues and I joked about being in a scene from a zombie movie. As we walked down the street, homeless people would limp toward us, hands out, demanding money. One of my reporters was assaulted by one. In a well-publicized incident near my old office, a homeless woman shot a man in a wheelchair after he told her to get a job. It’s not always unreasonable to try to shoo them away.

The homeless – many of whom are mentally ill or have substance-abuse issues – need compassion and social services (preferably ones provided by non-profits, rather than by government bureaucracies more interested in creating big pensions for their employees). Instead they are used as pawns for a politician’s political posturing.

The most objectionable language has already been removed. Critics have mocked the now-deleted provision that guaranteed homeless people “the right to engage in life sustaining activities that must be carried out in public spaces.” That includes eating, congregating, collecting personal property, and urinating. I’ve known non-homeless people who have received a citation for peeing in public, but a homeless person would have been exempt had the original language remained intact.

Legislators also stripped away a provision that would have banned private businesses from discriminating against homeless people, which would have resulted in restaurants and hotels becoming a haven for these folks. And forget about private property rights.

The current version still includes the right to panhandle, the right to occupy public spaces, the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables, the right to sleep in a car, and the right to taxpayer-funded legal counsel if a municipality issues a citation to a homeless person for any of the protected activities. The legislation also requires the state to fund homeless shelters and hygiene centers.

Unfortunately, Ammiano’s legitimate points – i.e., how local governments make it difficult at times for non-profits and churches to hand out food and operate homeless shelters – are lost in the silliness.

It would be nice if homeless advocates recognized the degree to which governmental regulations such as rent control, excessive building regulations, union wage requirements, governmental red tape, and restrictive land use policies drive up the cost of housing and punish organizations that want to help out.

Years ago, I wrote about the way some cities had harassed the poor people who lived in cheap motels, forcing them to move out every 30 days to keep the motels from becoming permanent homes for the poor. No one wants to live in a crummy motel, but such shelter is better than living near the train tracks.

By taking a trial-lawyer’s approach to homelessness, activists fail to make distinctions between those who are on the streets due to mental and social problems and those who simply lack shelter. That does a disservice to everyone.
But I wonder if the activists’ goal is to help these troubled people or to posture, litigate, and give grandiose speeches. In my view, the Homeless Bill of Rights is a microcosm of California’s a political problem, and a reminder that the only real solutions to any real problem will found outside the Legislature’s strange, insulated world.

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  • Sevo||

    Ammiano started as a stand-up comic and he's not about to quit.

  • Unindicted Co-conspirator||

    He's one of the most cloying douchebags in all of California politics.

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  • John Galt||

    What's depressing is the absurd comedy that is California government is bound to become the national standard.

  • Sam Grove||

    Homelessness is a vexing problem,...

    No it isn't. What's vexing is the obstructionism of so-called progressives who block any attempt at providing minimal housing, prevent charitable groups from assisting, and labor regulations that have priced homeless people out of jobs.

  • Sevo||

    "What's vexing is the obstructionism of so-called progressives who block any attempt at providing minimal housing"

    The twit who started this crap is from SF, where we have rent control and insane zoning/inspection regs to make sure there's no cheap housing and one of the highest 'fair wage' laws to make sure no ones works at entry-level pay.

  • wareagle||

    what bullshit. From what I've seen, a good many of the homeless live that way by choice. They have elected to drop out of regular society because they don't want to follow its rules. They all have some source of income, be it a disability check or something else, and any homeless person worth his salt knows where to get a meal when hungry, a bed when it's cold, a shower when one is needed.

    My city, in its infinite squishiness, even has a city-printed pamphlet outlining regs for panhandling, because folks who accost you for money are noted for going into City Hall to learn how to ply their trade. Then, they make the mistake of hitting up my wife for money; yeah, that ends well.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    Why bother, having money doesn't make you any happier anyway.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    The current version still includes the right to panhandle, the right to occupy public spaces, the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables, the right to sleep in a car

    I'm not seeing the libertarian argument for banning these four. If they're being done on private property without the owner's permission then they'd be covered by general trespassing laws, and in other cases I don't see the justification for banning them.

  • CosmoBro||

    I had the same reaction. These all seem perfectly fine to me.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Part of it is that, on several occasions, gotten tired on a long drive and responded by pulling into a rest stop and taking a nap for half an hour or so.

    Seems odd to suggest I was commiting some horrible crime at the time.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    I think, barring the last bit about tax-subsidized Lawyers torting it out and pissing wherever, the point is that these rights shouldn't be exclusive to one group:

  • MichaelTurner||

    Doesn't a community have the right to set the terms of using its public space? After all, nobody has to live in San Francisco. Seems to me banning these activities can also seem in line with libertarian ideology.

  • An0nB0t||

    If it's public, it belongs to everyone, including the homeless.

    Of course, here in the real world, public means state, so it's the state operatives who own and dictate how the property is used.

  • buddhastalin||

    Yes, the homeless have a right to use public spaces. But they do not have the right to use it however the hell they want.

  • MichaelTurner||

    In the real world there are also limits communities impose because they are human beings who don't want chaos. Communities form because people want to live amongst others with similar values.

    Why should it be illegal for homeless people to stand at intersections and wildly beat off? After all, it's public space and that doesn't technically affect anyone else. The answer is because nobody wants to see that. I know that's extreme, but it's really the same thing as panhandling; it's annoying and we don't want our city filled with bums bothering us.

  • RandomJackass||

    IF they are being done on private property, sure. But people sleeping in cars parked on the streets I could imagine being a real problem, since it semi-permanently reduces the amount of parking available to all.

  • buddhastalin||

    When people fish through the recycle containers that are set out for collection, often what they do is empty the contents on the sidewalk, pick through it and then put the rest (like paper products) back in the container. Many times they don't do a good enough job of cleaning up after themselves. The result is a mess on the sidewalks and the streets.

  • RightNut||

  • dan'o||

    Having lived in a car, worked at a homeless shelter, and spent years in avocational work in substance abuse I have personal experience in the inadvertent promotion of homelessness. There is an hotel in LA called the Cecil that is(at least used to be) an infamous crack hovel. Beginning each month, the place was packed with groups of 4-5 who just cashed their GR checks and sold their food stamps for roughly $300 cash. They would pool money to pay 7-10 days stay, cheap booze, cigs and base rocks. Some groups would alternate panhandling to keep the party going longer. When they were out of cash and dope, they'd hit the streets again to re-inhabit their cardboard boxes, eat dog food and endure their harsh life... comforted by the thought that they need only hang in till the first of the month, and they'd be back at the Cecil in style.

  • RightNut||

    Not homeless related, but I used to watch elderly people do something similar with Social security checks and scratch tickets.

  • RandomJackass||

    You should pitch that idea to TLC. It could be the next Honey Boo Boo.

  • Juice||

    Looks like all the homeless need to start making their way to California to be homeless there.

  • Juice||

    The current version still includes the right to panhandle,

    I'm ok with this as long as everyone is peaceful.

    the right to occupy public spaces,

    Ok, to a certain extent.

    the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables,

    Ok. Go for it. Who's stopping you?

    the right to sleep in a car,

    Got no problem with this either.

    and the right to taxpayer-funded legal counsel if a municipality issues a citation to a homeless person for any of the protected activities.

    Isn't that already in the US Constitution?

  • Sevo||

    You're right. Reading the article (rather than responding to what it formerly was), most of the whacko stuff has been removed.
    At one point, it included the "right" to showers.

  • Juice||

    That's weird. What were they going to do, install public showers in parks?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Isn't that basically just a fountain?

  • Sevo||

    Juice| 5.3.13 @ 7:01PM |#
    "That's weird. What were they going to do, install public showers in parks?"

    This is Ammiano; the ways and means are irrelevant to the intent.
    He has absolutely zero idea of how this would be accomplished or who else would be affected. He's a mindless lefty shitbag.

  • RandomJackass||

    They have them at the beaches. Why not? I wouldn't use one, but hell, if the homeless smelled better I'd mind them a lot less.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Do homeful (??) people have the same rights under California law?

  • Libertarius||

    "The public welfare belongs to those who do not earn it; those do earn it are entitled to no welfare."

  • Len Bias||

    It's like in Atlas Shrugged: "There's nothing noble about giving a job to a person who's qualified for it."

  • RandomJackass||

    Homeful people have the least rights of all. That's why I rent. Property ownership in CA is an illusion. Or maybe it's a delusion. Either way, I don't trust it.

  • ||

    It is in the Constitution that you have the right to a taxpayer funded lawyer for a municipal citation? That is a big surprise to me. Next time my dog gets out I will certainly demand my free lawyer!No wonder city taxes are so high.

  • Len Bias||

    "Critics have mocked the now-deleted provision that guaranteed homeless people “the right to engage in life sustaining activities that must be carried out in public spaces.”"

    These bills have critics? Perhaps a few yokels in the central valley, but the general beauty of coastal California is there are few critics to these insane bills. I just can't tell if coastal Californians want to destroy their own state or no.

  • Len Bias||

    "or NOT."

  • CbadCAMom||

    Yes, these bills have critics and many of us live on the coast, just not enough of us to get rid of the lefties. Not everyone in CA is a liberal loon. Shocking, I know.

  • ||

    Why not a Bill of Rights for every class of disenfranchised people? It's only fair.

    Biden. Come here, boy. Chop, chop. We have an assignment...

  • Suellington||

    That clown Ammiano pays the princely sum of $530 a year in property taxes to live in the city of San Francisco. For comparison I pay close to 6k with an income that is probably half his. He also just happens to live in an area that won't see homeless in front of his abode because he lives on a steep hill. Someone could publish his address so that we could invite a bunch of bums to defecate out front, but he helped author a law that makes it a crime to publish the address of lawmakers. Fucking scum the man is.

  • Sevo||

    "he helped author a law that makes it a crime to publish the address of lawmakers."

    As a sleazy lefty hypocrite, it's not surprising he did so, but can you give me any link to that law?
    Seems to me that's A-1 territory, and Tom needs to get it rammed up his butt in court.

  • buddhastalin||

    He is a total embarrassment and embodies everything that is wrong with progressive San Francisco politics. Thank goodness for term limits!! Unfortunately, "Hugo" Campos is eyeing his Assembly seat, so the fun might continue.

  • PH2050||

    Googling Ammanio was entertaining.

    I'm more upset that he wasn't around to meddle when I was in high school so I could claim to self-identify as a lesbian and enjoy changing in the female locker room.

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  • Jayburd||

    If they were gay homeless they would get all the group rights they want.

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