Obama administration says anti-camping ordinances discriminate—so time to finally legalize ‘right to rest' in Sacramento

In April, we asked Sacramento’s elected leaders to get rid of laws that criminalize and discriminate against homeless people. City and county leaders did nothing. Heck, they even said that a discussion of repealing the city’s anti-camping ordinance was a nonstarter.

But now, four months later, here we are again talking about the region’s approach to homelessness. And, this time, the Obama administration agrees with SN&R: Anti-camping ordinances and laws that oppose a person’s right to rest have got to go.

Here’s what happened: Earlier this month, on August 5, the Department of Justice asked a judge to block the anti-camping ordinance in Boise, Idaho. “If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless,” the department wrote in a filing.

This move in Idaho reverberates here in Sacramento, where the city passed its own anti-camping law back in 2010.

This law makes sleeping outdoors, resting in public in the park and the possession of “camping paraphernalia,” even on private property for more than one evening, illegal. The law is also a tool that cops use with eye-opening regularity.

As SN&R wrote earlier this year: “In 2014, city police and county rangers issued 1,030 citations under the illegal-camping ordinance. That number is nearly half of the total number of homeless people in the area, according to the 2013 Sacramento Homeless Point-in-Time Count.”

If an individual is cited under the anti-camping rules, that person receives a misdemeanor that comes with a $230 fine. These citations spark all sorts of residual costs for taxpayers.

Some California lawmakers, such as state Sen. Carol Liu, have worked to pass “right to rest” laws—to no avail.

But now, on the heels of the DOJ’s statement, it’s time for city and county leaders to do right by the homeless community. It’s time to end laws that treat homelessness like a criminal problem and not a social one.

SN&R urges Councilman Jay Schenirer, who has shown a passion for homelessness solutions, and council members Jeff Harris and Steve Hansen, whose districts are uniquely impacted by homelessness issues, to immediately call for a moratorium of the city’s anti-camping ordinance.

We’re dubious that the ordinance does any good for Sacramento. It doesn’t end outdoor camping or sleeping in parks. It likely spurs more problems than solutions.

And, now that the Obama administration agrees with SN&R on this matter, it’s time to listen to your weekly paper and the president.

Let’s do the right thing by ending this discriminatory law.