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Grants Pass ruling could be a game changer for Escondido homelessness

Ruling could be a game changer for Escondido homelessness

On Friday, June 28 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the landmark case of Grants Pass v. Johnson. The ruling could be a game changer for the City of Escondido’s efforts to deal with homelessness.

For several years, cities on the Western part of the U.S. have been severely limited in their toolbox for combating homelessness by rulings of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court held in 2019 that cities could not force homeless encampments off public property unless the city has enough beds available for the homeless to go there.

On Wednesday, June 26, the city council, in anticipation of some sort of judicial relief from the High Court passed an ordinance banning homeless encampments regardless of whether there were beds available or not.

On Friday the Supremes ruled that cities—like Escondido—can enforce such bans on encampments in public places.

Other cities in North County are working on similar ordinances, including Vista and Oceanside.

Escondido Mayor Dane White told The Times-Advocate: “The Grants Pass decision will provide much needed relief to Escondido residents, as we now have the ability to affirmatively protect the quality of life, the environment, and public safety of our residents by clearing dangerous encampments.”

The mayor added, “I have personally experienced homelessness. Having slept on the streets, I know that it is not compassionate to let people suffer, and eventually die, in encampments. By passing our anti-camping ordinance, and with the flexibility now provided by the Supreme Court, we will be able to do more to help homeless individuals get back on the path to recovery in Escondido.” White continued, “This is only a step in the right direction and ultimately nobody can get off of the streets without shelter and remain off the streets once stable with permanent housing. This is our focus.”

We also contacted former Escondido Attorney and City Manager Jeff Epp for his take on the decision’s ramifications. “I thought it was a great decision clearing out the legal cobwebs that have been hampering cities in trying to grapple with the issue of homelessness,” Epp said. “I know my former colleagues at the City of Escondido are grateful for the clarity coming from the Court.  Sadly, many people experiencing homelessness have no incentive to seek available help.  This decision restores the framework of consequences that can nudge them into obtaining treatment, housing, and other services that will keep them safe and off the streets.”

Deputy Mayor Christian Garcia, who is running for reelection to the city council’s 3rd District told The Times-Advocate: “I support the Supreme Courts Grants Pass decision. This will provide much needed relief that Escondido residents have been asking for. We now have the ability to protect our businesses, families and children from criminal activity. I have spoken to hundreds of residents about this topic and, almost unanimously, it’s been said they want the city to have the right to enforce anti-camping laws. With my proposal approved this month for four more police officers in our COPPS division, EPD will be able to enforce laws that our families need.”

Garcia added, “However, we must remain compassionate and understand the plight of our homeless population. We must continue to work with our partners for more housing and services. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for service providers to rise to the occasion and provide the relief the homeless need. I’m excited to see them welcome the homeless that will move out of the streets into their shelter. They are important partners to the city.”

Garcia’s opponent for the 3rd District, Christine Spencer, talked about unintended consequences of the Supreme Court decision: “The recent Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. Grants Pass has brought new social issues for cities and society as a whole. Cities can now ticket and arrest people experiencing homelessness without providing another option for where to sleep and live. It is a disheartening vote and does not address the root issues of why someone is living on the street.”

Spencer added, “I understand the need for the encampment ban in Escondido because of the dramatic increase in the number of people on the streets hurting businesses and the community. The action had to be taken for public safety.”

Spencer continued: “We now desperately need collaborations with service providers who are experts in their field to work together with the City of Escondido and increase the availability of not only shelters but also services and housing options for individuals and families who cannot  afford the escalating prices of housing. These providers each have a unique approach to an issue that needs various solutions because there are so many reasons why people are experiencing homelessness. This can include mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, job loss, and not being able to afford rent for a place. I feel if we do not urgently work together to find these wrap-around services we will have additional problems for our city.”

We also reached out to both candidates for the 4th District. Stef Holden told The Times-Advocate:  “We need every tool possible to deal with the problem of homelessness.  I was so pleased to see the Court acknowledge that in some circumstances, cities must have authority to punish behavior that threatens basic public safety.   I look forward to working towards safe and clean streets and public spaces.”

Candidate Judy Fitzgerald said, “I am glad to see the Supreme Court has provided additional leeway to local jurisdictions, Escondido included, to enforce anti-camping ordinances. This is by no means a solution to homelessness, but allowing our law enforcement officers more leverage in protecting public safety and our quality of life is a welcome step in the right direction.”

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