After a delay prompted by public outcry, the Anaheim City Council will once again consider an ordinance tonight that will effectively criminalize its homeless population. Originally introduced in September, the all-hours ban on camping in public parks and spaces returns with only minor revisions, to ensure consistency with Anaheim's municipal code--the parts that will impound personal property deemed by authorities to be held by the homeless "unlawfully" as well as a $100-500 scale fines for violations remain.
But the Anaheim City Council isn't completely heartless: they're also to vote on a proposal that would give $40,000 to the Fullerton Armory Emergency Shelter so they can open earlier this year, thereby pushing Anaheim's homeless northward. Now THAT'S compassionate conservatism!
"We are pleased that the winter shelter program will be able to be open for 2 to 3 weeks longer than the normal funding allows," says Jennifer Lee-Anderson, co-chair of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force. The group conducted a count of the city's homeless last January, finding 447 'unsheltered' persons out during the daytime, with 80 of those being at La Palma Park.
But the Armory's early opening isn't enough, she points out, because it's only for the winter, and will close in April. "What will happen when the winter shelter program closes is what has happened every year when the program closes--400 chronically homeless individuals, and some families, will be back out on the streets, in the parks, or living in vehicles with no real shelter or housing options."
When the homeless return, they may be at the mercy of the harsh ordinance expected to pass. But city officials aren't sympathetic. "Parks are designed to provide outdoor recreational space, whether that be through organized sports, or leisurely enjoying a park bench with family and friends," Terry D. Lowe, Anaheim's director of community services, tells the Weekly. "We have seen an increase in tents, or camping, in city parks. Four-walled tents can invite illegal activity. That is not the intended use for parks, and that is what we are addressing here."
Back in September, Lowe addressed the council while presenting the anti-camping ban, stressing the role of resident complaints. "The significant accumulation of personal property and continued camping on the park...has caused a great deal of consternation in our city," Lowe said. "Not a day goes by that I don't receive numerous complaints from the public...demanding that we do something." Councilwoman Lucille Kring later held a folder she said was full of similar sentiments on the issue.
When an anti-camping ordinance came before the council in September, members of the Poverty Task Force were blindsided by it. This time around, they plan to take to the podium once more to speak against its passage while also addressing the need for real solutions.
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"We will continue to support efforts to open the county's first year-round shelter, which we hope will be somewhere in North County, so it can begin to serve the resident homeless populations in Anaheim and Fullerton," Lee-Anderson adds. "And, of course, our ultimate goal is to see more permanent supportive housing for these homeless individuals and families."
After meetings with Mayor Tom Tait and city staff, the Task Force, which has a 15-point plan to address homelessness, recommended that the passed ordinance at least be delayed to thirty days after the Fullerton Armory opens its doors; the council, so far, has been noncommittal .
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz