Russell Bartholow says he was arrested or cited hundreds of times during the 15 years he lived under a bridge in Oak Park.
“It was like a game,” he said, claiming that police often issued pre-written citations—sometimes four or five times a day—for everything from soliciting alms to selling flowers without a permit.
Accounts like these prompted researchers at Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic to analyze municipal codes in 58 California cities for anti-homeless laws and discretionary enforcement. The report was compiled on behalf of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, and released at a press conference on the steps of the Capitol last week.
California cities average more anti-homeless laws than cities in other states, the report states. Sacramento alone has 11 distinct municipal codes criminalizing activities associated with homelessness. Anti-camping policing represents 69 percent of total municipal code enforcement.
Anti-camping citations from Sacramento County park rangers working within city limits rose by almost 2,400 percent from 2010 to 2012. That’s not a typo.
According to WRAP, 97 percent of homeless Sacramentans report being harassed by police for sleeping in public, with 63 percent having been arrested at some point.
In short, researchers say, people are being penalized for their housing status rather than behavior. “These people are the same as me,” said Lindsay Walter, a contributing researcher. “At the end of the day, they’re human.”
Oregon and Colorado have introduced separate homeless bills of rights. Researchers and activists are looking for similar support in California.
With 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population, California is “dragging its feet” with regard to protections for the homeless community, Walter said.