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A push for decriminalizing homelessness

"Not everyone who lives in a van is a disrespectful drug-addicted hoodlum."

The view from Sam Moore's living room
The view from Sam Moore's living room

For nearly a decade, Sam Moore (not his real name) has called Ocean Beach his home. For the past seven months, his abode has been a 1991 Chevy van.

His lifestyle choice has not been without consequence. Until the past couple of weeks, the police were disturbing Moore's peace about once a week. This week, it's been almost every night via civilians or the police.

"The police have stopped and checked out my van multiple times lately,” Moore said on February 21, “but the last notable time was when I was harassed by one civilian and moments later with what sounded like maybe four or five police officers. They started banging on the windows, yelling to get out of the van, shining flashlights through every little crack that hadn't been blacked out, and trying to open the door handles. They waited about 20 to 30 minutes, then left. The police usually write a ticket, if they can.

"This particular time, I got a $57 ticket for parking on the curb. My tire was less than an inch onto the curb. After the police left, I counted four illegally parked vehicles within a block, completely free of tickets."

Finding a parking spot for his van can be a challenge. "I move a lot," said Moore. "I always try to find a legal spot by businesses, parks, water areas, or construction sites. I do my best to find a spot where there isn't a house. It's just not comfortable for anyone."

Originally from Wautoma, Wisconsin, Moore is a massage therapist who works on athletes, police officers, orca trainers, and others.

When asked what made him choose the van life, he said, "After years of building a successful business, I was proud of what I had accomplished but felt that my life was too comfortable. About this same time, I traveled through Central America, mainly hitchhiking and walking for nearly ten months before coming back to the States. Once back, I realized I wanted to continue on the journey, so I bought the van."

Before choosing a life on the streets, Moore lived in an apartment on Brighton Avenue. He says the most challenging obstacle was letting go of his creature comforts. But once he did, he says it was one of the most emotionally freeing things he'd ever done. Even with the hassle, his lifestyle is not without its rewards. It affords Moore the ability to travel the world. Last month, he spent time in Australia, and this year he plans to visit Germany, Southeast Asia, and Japan.

I asked Moore if he can see a day when he'll trade in the van for a white picket fence.

"Oh sure!” he said with a laugh. “Maybe not a white picket fence, but someday when I find someone who is supposed to be that other half. But right now, it's all about challenging, growing, creating, and simplifying."

What would he like to see as far as a change in the laws?

"I would love to see a day when the homeless are as accepted as any neighbor in the box next door," said Moore. "It would be great if we stopped looking at people who choose different lifestyles as criminals. Not everyone who lives in a van is a disrespectful drug-addicted hoodlum; just like not everyone living in an apartment is a positive addition to the community."

Help may be on the way if California senator Carol Liu has anything to say about it. In mid-January 2016, Liu introduced a new anti-discrimination bill that calls on California municipalities to treat the homeless as they would anyone else using public spaces. If passed, SB 876 would allow the homeless to rest on public property without being arrested or cited.

The bill states that if the homeless are discriminated against, they will have an avenue to pursue civil action. The bill also clarifies that the homeless will not be allowed special access to public spaces: when they are closed to the public, they are also closed to the homeless.

Liu said on February 19, “We need to address California’s homelessness problem head-on with housing and wrap-around services that provide a secure living environment and pathways out of poverty. There are working models and best practices available to inform our actions.

"Meanwhile, cities need to stop harassing and criminalizing the homeless. This only moves the problem to another jurisdiction and creates a criminal record that prevents the homeless from qualifying for housing, jobs, and student loans.

"SB 876 simply prevents cities from enacting ordinances that bar the homeless from engaging in activities that any other person would be allowed to do, such as sharing food in a public space.”

The bill is currently in committee.

Mayor Faulconer's office declined to comment; the San Diego Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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The view from Sam Moore's living room
The view from Sam Moore's living room

For nearly a decade, Sam Moore (not his real name) has called Ocean Beach his home. For the past seven months, his abode has been a 1991 Chevy van.

His lifestyle choice has not been without consequence. Until the past couple of weeks, the police were disturbing Moore's peace about once a week. This week, it's been almost every night via civilians or the police.

"The police have stopped and checked out my van multiple times lately,” Moore said on February 21, “but the last notable time was when I was harassed by one civilian and moments later with what sounded like maybe four or five police officers. They started banging on the windows, yelling to get out of the van, shining flashlights through every little crack that hadn't been blacked out, and trying to open the door handles. They waited about 20 to 30 minutes, then left. The police usually write a ticket, if they can.

"This particular time, I got a $57 ticket for parking on the curb. My tire was less than an inch onto the curb. After the police left, I counted four illegally parked vehicles within a block, completely free of tickets."

Finding a parking spot for his van can be a challenge. "I move a lot," said Moore. "I always try to find a legal spot by businesses, parks, water areas, or construction sites. I do my best to find a spot where there isn't a house. It's just not comfortable for anyone."

Originally from Wautoma, Wisconsin, Moore is a massage therapist who works on athletes, police officers, orca trainers, and others.

When asked what made him choose the van life, he said, "After years of building a successful business, I was proud of what I had accomplished but felt that my life was too comfortable. About this same time, I traveled through Central America, mainly hitchhiking and walking for nearly ten months before coming back to the States. Once back, I realized I wanted to continue on the journey, so I bought the van."

Before choosing a life on the streets, Moore lived in an apartment on Brighton Avenue. He says the most challenging obstacle was letting go of his creature comforts. But once he did, he says it was one of the most emotionally freeing things he'd ever done. Even with the hassle, his lifestyle is not without its rewards. It affords Moore the ability to travel the world. Last month, he spent time in Australia, and this year he plans to visit Germany, Southeast Asia, and Japan.

I asked Moore if he can see a day when he'll trade in the van for a white picket fence.

"Oh sure!” he said with a laugh. “Maybe not a white picket fence, but someday when I find someone who is supposed to be that other half. But right now, it's all about challenging, growing, creating, and simplifying."

What would he like to see as far as a change in the laws?

"I would love to see a day when the homeless are as accepted as any neighbor in the box next door," said Moore. "It would be great if we stopped looking at people who choose different lifestyles as criminals. Not everyone who lives in a van is a disrespectful drug-addicted hoodlum; just like not everyone living in an apartment is a positive addition to the community."

Help may be on the way if California senator Carol Liu has anything to say about it. In mid-January 2016, Liu introduced a new anti-discrimination bill that calls on California municipalities to treat the homeless as they would anyone else using public spaces. If passed, SB 876 would allow the homeless to rest on public property without being arrested or cited.

The bill states that if the homeless are discriminated against, they will have an avenue to pursue civil action. The bill also clarifies that the homeless will not be allowed special access to public spaces: when they are closed to the public, they are also closed to the homeless.

Liu said on February 19, “We need to address California’s homelessness problem head-on with housing and wrap-around services that provide a secure living environment and pathways out of poverty. There are working models and best practices available to inform our actions.

"Meanwhile, cities need to stop harassing and criminalizing the homeless. This only moves the problem to another jurisdiction and creates a criminal record that prevents the homeless from qualifying for housing, jobs, and student loans.

"SB 876 simply prevents cities from enacting ordinances that bar the homeless from engaging in activities that any other person would be allowed to do, such as sharing food in a public space.”

The bill is currently in committee.

Mayor Faulconer's office declined to comment; the San Diego Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Comments
14

Oh please! Life on the streets should be made as hard as possible. Those homeless who do not want to be homeless have avenues to get off the street. The mentally ill need to be warehoused in mental institutions. The rest are just druggies, drunks and bums. Anything that is done to make their lifestyle choice easier is just enabling just like buying a drunk a drink.

Feb. 24, 2016

No, there is still NOT enough housing in San Diego for the homeless, and the shelters have limited space for nightly sleepovers. As for mental institutions, decades ago then-Gov. Reagan shut down many of those, and put those patients onto the streets. Way to go, Gipper!

Feb. 24, 2016

dwbat...can you provide a source describing how Reagan shut down any mental hospitals here in CA?

Feb. 24, 2016

You may Google if you wish. There's a whole lot of material on it. Here's what happened in brief: In 1967, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS Act) a so-called "bill of rights" for those with mental health problems passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly: 77-1. The Senate approved it by similar margins. Then-Gov. Reagan signed it into law. Believe it or not, it did put mental patients out to fend for themselves. It was co-authored by California State Assemblyman Frank Lanterman, a Republican, and California State Senators Nicholas C. Petris and Alan Short, both Democrats. LPS went into full effect on July 1, 1972.

Reagan willingly signed it. It was a bad decision on his part. Nobody put a gun to his head and forced his signature. Reagan bowed down to the rich and took their money (especially from GE Corp.). He was a horrible governor, and an even worse president.

Feb. 24, 2016

Reagan was elected President in 1980, he discarded a law proposed by his predecessor that would have continued funding federal community mental health centers. This basically eliminated services for people struggling with mental illness.

He made similar decisions while he was the governor of California, releasing more than half of the state’s mental hospital patients and passing a law that abolished involuntary hospitalization of people struggling with mental illness. This started a national trend of de-institutionalization.

In other words, if you are struggling with mental illness, we can only help you if you ask for it.

March 11, 2019

I thought that the rationale was that progressives felt that being in mental hospitals was somehow discriminatory to the patients. Further, they claimed that the patients would be better served if they were "mainstreamed" into society. Well, how did all that false compassion work out for everyone? And now that most of the street people are mentally ill, progressives have the nerve to blame the disastrous results of their fantasies on Reagan. Yeah, its always somebody else's fault.

Feb. 24, 2016

Legislative bills are signed (or not) by the governor. It was Ronald Reagan who signed it. The buck stopped with him.

Feb. 24, 2016

I agree there is not enough resources to help the homeless, but I disagree that providing housing is the solution. That is an expensive band-aid. The root of the problem is mental health and until we address that issue all our efforts will be wasteful.

Feb. 25, 2016

In response to AlexClarke's comments "Oh please! Life on the streets should be made as hard as possible. Those homeless who do not want to be homeless have avenues to get off the street. The mentally ill need to be warehoused in mental institutions. The rest are just druggies, drunks and bums. Anything that is done to make their lifestyle choice easier is just enabling just like buying a drunk a drink." As a Social Work student in graduate school, I have learned that homelessnes is an outcome of mental illness. We live in America where we have the right to live however one chooses. We inherited "unalienable rights" and because you do not agree with the homeless lifestyle does not warrant having their lives made more difficult! I agree there are avenues to address mental health, but there are not enough and those that exist are POORLY FUNDED. As Americans we have a civic duty to provide for the mentally ill the same way we provide "welfare" in the form of social security and Medicaid. As an American I am embarrassed that you would take someone's right of freedom and warehouse them against their will so you are not inconvenienced by the sight of homeless. You generalize that they are "druggies, drunks and bums" but what you fail to realize is they turn to these choices due to mental illness. If you want to see less homeless in our community, volunteer to help them. I have. May God be kind to you on judgement day. I suggest you read the Good Samaritan's Parable.

Feb. 25, 2016

First off Social Security is not a welfare program as it is funded by employers and employees. Medicaid is a welfare program that provides healthcare to the poor. While many homeless are mentally ill and may have turned to drugs and alcohol many have mental problems because they CHOSE to use drugs and alcohol first. Most homeless are bums. The do not want to be productive members of society they are takers not givers. There are many programs that help the "down-and-out" but the participants first must want to become productive members and them agree to play by the rules of the program. Where there are concentrations of homeless the property crime rates go up as well as assaults. The truly whacked out should be institutionalized. Bums are nothing but bums and we should stop enabling them.

Feb. 25, 2016

If you read the article more carefully, you'll see the word welfare was put in quotes. The word has different meanings, one being: "Something that aids or promotes well-being." So in that sense, Social Security IS welfare (but it's not the same as Medicaid welfare). As for your "institutionalized" suggestion, will you donate the $millions needed to accomplished that, or agree to a large increase in your state taxes to pay for it?

Feb. 25, 2016

Did I read that San Diego gets $32 MILLION for the homeless, but can't afford to fix the downtown showers for them? Where does that money go?

March 4, 2019

Ace Parking?

March 5, 2019

Administrative salaries and wasted spending?

March 5, 2019

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