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Over the last six months, 78 homeless encampments were cleared in Vista. Courtesy photo
A 2021 homeless encampment in Vista. File photo

Bill to clear homeless encampments stalls in Senate committee

REGION — The California Senate’s Public Safety Committee put a pause on a Senate bill to clear homeless encampments written by Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones, R-Santee, and Senator Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas.

“California’s homelessness crisis is dangerous, inhumane, and unacceptable,” Jones said. “Our bipartisan SB 1011 would have provided a compassionate solution for clearing homeless encampments, ensuring both the safety of our community and the dignity of homeless individuals.

“This is not a partisan issue, which is why we have Democrats, Republicans, homeless advocates, and mental health experts in support of this bill,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the closed-minded opposition from the majority party members of the Senate Public Safety Committee to new approaches and their knee-jerk support of just throwing more money at the problem with no real plan.”

Modeled after San Diego’s controversial “Unsafe Camping Ordinance,” SB 1011 would have prohibited homeless encampments near “sensitive community areas” such as schools, open spaces and transit stops. The bill also would have prohibited camping on sidewalks and streets if shelter space is available.

“I am disappointed that this bipartisan legislation, which is modeled on a program that is working well in the city of San Diego, is not moving forward this year,” Blakespear said. “We need to do better on homelessness, and the current state of affairs – the lack of housing, the homelessness encampments in public spaces in our cities – is not acceptable.

“I am committed to working with fellow legislators and advocates to take immediate steps to address this crisis,” she said.

Additionally, the bill would have required enforcement officers to give a 72-hour notice before an encampment sweep and requires enforcement officers to provide information about sleeping alternatives, homeless and mental health services and homeless shelters.

Aisha Wahab, D-Hayward, said she appreciated the intent of the bill, but found it was an overly punitive, criminalizing measure when many homeless people are on the street because of high cost of living and not through personal choices. She said a bigger priority for her was to keep people in homes rather than to clear encampments.

The bill’s co-sponsors included several Democrats and more than a dozen Republicans. Tuesday’s hearing featured testimonies from Dr. Drew Pinsky, Vista Mayor John Franklin and people experiencing homelessness advocate Brett Boman.

“California’s homeless crisis is truly out of control. The state is allowing people to die on the streets on a daily basis,” said Pinsky, syndicated talk radio host, internist and addictionologist. “The situation is not sustainable and Senator Jones’s bipartisan bill, Senate Bill 1011 will help.

“I strongly support his efforts to compassionately clear encampments and connect people with desperately needed medical and mental health services and shelters,” he said. “It is morally and bioethically wrong to leave people to die on our streets of a progressive illness – this is a social experiment that has failed and it is time to wrap it up.”

SB 1011 stalled in the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 1-3 vote, but it was granted reconsideration and is eligible to be voted on again in committee before the April 26 deadline.

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