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Court rejects California cities’ brief
Supreme Court lets 9th District decision stand on sleeping in public
The 9th District Court’s ruling that municipalities cannot make it a crime for the homeless to sleep in public areas if there is no shelter available will stand as the Supreme Court refused to review the decision (Journal file photo).

Turlock and other cities across the nation’s hands have been effectively tied in how to deal with the homeless by the United States Supreme Court.

The high court refused to review a 9th District decision that makes it harder for cities to keep homeless people from sleeping on the streets.

Twenty California cities filed “friends of the court” briefs in a bid to get the Supreme Court to consider hearing an appeal on the 9th District Appellate Court ruling regarding Boise, Idaho law that made it illegal for the homeless to sleep on the street.

The court ruled that Boise could not constitutionally make it a crime for the homeless to sleep on the streets or in public places if there is no shelter available for the homeless.

“It is disappointing that the Supreme Court will not grant a hearing on the 9th Circuits’ Boise decision,” said Turlock Police Captain Steven Williams.

“The City of Turlock will continue to partner with the community to provide services that are compliance with the laws and in the best interest of the people we serve,” he continued. “The Boise decision is the current law of the land.  Homelessness is not a crime.  Enforcement action and law enforcement decisions will not be made based solely on an individual’s residential status. 

“It is not a crime to sleep in public. Turlock Police will balance the needs of the community with compassion, working within the laws to contribute to new ideas in an effort to generate real solutions to the societal issues associated with homelessness.  This can only be accomplished by partnering with the community in a collaborative effort.  We cannot enforce our way out of the problem.  Criminal behavior will be addressed to the best of our resource ability.”

Any time there are beds available and a homeless person won’t go to the shelter, law enforcement has court clearance to enforce anti-camping laws.

Currently, Turlock has 115 emergency shelter beds available for the approximate 250 homeless individuals (from a 2019 point-in-time homeless count), which is better than most communities in the state, according to Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development Maryn Pitt.

“Allowing people to camp reduces the incentive for people with harder circumstances to see the benefit of coming into a shelter or engaging in services to getting them out of homelessness,” said Pitt. “The challenge remains that Turlock has a 1.7% vacancy rate in rental housing there are people occupying a bed in the shelter because they can’t afford housing. The City is working diligently with our nonprofit providers to create more affordable housing opportunities.”

On Dec. 10, the Turlock City Council approved two projects that will increase the number of shelter beds available in town.

A rebuild of the We Care’s kitchen and dining areas will include a community room equipped with fire sprinklers and other safety requirements, which once installed, will allow the organization to use the space for overflow shelter beds when necessary and has a training area when not needed as a shelter.

The second project will update TGM’s day center including installing the necessary equipment to allow the mission to use the entire day center as an overflow shelter when needed.

Both projects will be funded by Homeless Emergency Aid Program grant funds. H.E.A.P. was signed into law by then Gov. Jerry Brown in June 2018 and opens up a $500 million block grant to provide direct assistance to cities and counties to help with homelessness. The state required the declaration of a shelter crisis for entities to access the funds and the declaration had to be made by Dec. 31, 2018. The funding is based on population and the 2017 point in time homeless count.

Turlock’s share of the grant amounted to $585,000.