Santa Clarita city officials emphasized they don’t plan to cite the homeless for sleeping on sidewalks before a year-round shelter is built, after a federal court ruled Tuesday that it’s unlawful to prosecute the homeless for sleeping on public property.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a district court decision in favor of the city of Boise, Idaho, in a case in which homeless people challenged city ordinances that barred them from staying overnight on public property.
In June, the Santa Clarita City Council approved a municipal code amendment that was geared toward preventing people from “living” in public places, raising objections from several residents who argued that the amendment would negatively impact the homeless.
“The ruling of the 9th Circuit Court doesn’t have any material impact on the city because while the ordinance is technically in place, we had directed city staff not to enforce it until we have a year-round shelter,” City Councilman Cameron Smyth said Wednesday.
The amendment to the city ordinance expanded the definition of “public places” and allowed city officials to address any encampment or dwelling that may arise at new municipal facilities.
The intent of the amendment, Smyth said, was to use the time between passage of the ordinance and the opening of the city’s seasonal homeless shelter, operated by nonprofit Bridge to Home, to educate the community about the ordinance “so that when the time comes, there would be an increased level of awareness of resources.”
“We obviously don’t want people sleeping on the sidewalks, but we also want to make sure there is a place for them to go,” said Smyth, who is also head of the city’s Homeless Ad Hoc Committee.
Plans to open a year-round shelter have not been finalized, but last year the city approved purchase of a $1 million site for the new shelter on Drayton Street, to be donated to Bridge to Home.
The current shelter is open from November to March and has 60 beds, according to Bridge to Home Executive Director Peggy Edwards.
The ordinance amendment language does not formally state the city will wait on enforcement, Smyth said.
“But it’s been communicated to Code Enforcement and the Community Preservation Division to educate people, so if we run into someone technically in violation, instead of citing someone, the staff can inform them it’s in place, and will be enforced soon,” he said.
Since the passing of the amendment in June, he has not heard of any homeless individuals found in violation of the ordinance and that if they were found in violation, city staff would not prosecute them, Smyth said.
He said per the ruling, even if they were found in violation now, they cannot be cited if a shelter isn’t available.
“The city staff had made the decision prior to the ruling of the 9th Circuit, so it doesn’t necessarily have any material impact on the city since we were waiting to enforce it,” he said.