By Frank Gormlie / OBRag
A class-action suit against the City of San Diego by a group of disabled homeless challenging the enforcement of parking laws that prevent homeless people from living and sleeping in recreational vehicles is winding its way through Federal court.
The suit was filed in November 2017 by 9 homeless men and women who say they have no other housing option except to live in their RVs – which forces them to park overnight in city parks or streets. Their disabilities make them unable to afford rent and that homeless shelters are unsuitable for the disabled.
Their lawsuit demands that the city immediately stop citing disabled people under its long-standing vehicle habitation ordinance and its relatively new RV ordinance. The RV ordinance, enforced by the city in 2014, prohibits such vehicles from parking on any San Diego city street or in any public parking lot between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The suit was written by attorneys from the Sacramento-based nonprofit group Disability Rights California.
The suit claims the ordinance is being used to target more than 800 of San Diego’s “most vulnerable residents,” and the plaintiffs claim “their vehicles are their only reliable safe shelter….despite no adequate alternative…they’re repeatedly ticketed and harassed.”
From San Diego Union-Tribune:
The lawsuit says the RV law and vehicle habitation ordinance both violate numerous U.S. and state constitutional rights, including the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment due process protections. Enforcement of the two laws also violates the antidiscrimination protections of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the suit says.
“Their vehicles are their only reliable, safe shelter from the elements and only place to store their belongings,” the suit says. “Yet, even though there are no adequate alternatives, the city has repeatedly ticketed and harassed these individuals for seeking shelter in their vehicles or simply for owning vehicles and having nowhere else to park.”
The names of the nine plaintiffs are Michael Bloom, Stephen Chatzky, Valerie Grischy, Penny Helms, Doug Higgins, Suzonne Keith, David Wilson, Tony Diaz and Benjamin Hernandez. They range in age from 54 to 70 and each contends they can’t afford San Diego’s high rents because they have a disability preventing them from earning enough money.
One of the attorneys for the group told the San Diego Reader the city needs to address the shortage of beds in shelters as well as lack of affordable housing before it starts issuing citations to those whose only options are to sleep in their cars or on the street. The attorney, Ann Menasche, stated:
“The City’s enforcement of nighttime parking and vehicle habitation ordinances criminalizes those homeless individuals who are lucky enough to have a vehicle, and discriminates against people based on their disabilities.
“These individuals barely have enough money to eat and pay for medicine and other basic needs, let alone exorbitant fines per these ordinances. The fines and the City’s impounding of their vehicles put their health, safety, and very lives at risk.”
This battle over RV living rights comes in the midst of a housing crisis in San Diego – where the median rent for the County is $1,992. One analyst says renters in San Diego need to earn more than three times local minimum wage, $11.50 an hour, to afford the median rent.
Meanwhile, ticketing of persons living in their vehicle has gone up some over the last 2 years. In 2016, 281 people were ticketed, whereas, in 2017, 295 were ticketed. Most of the tickets have been issued in Ocean Beach and Mission Beach and other coastal communities.
This is good news to some residents at the beach, where parking is tight, and the sight of RVs on their neighborhood streets has raised many concerns about crime, blight, and trash left by vehicle dwellers over the years. Which was part of the public pressure to pass the more restrictive RV ordinance in the first place.
But one of the consequences of the new restrictions was to increase homelessness. This is a vicious cycle. And with the federal suit, disabled homeless people will someday be in court.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, a local judge ruled in March that the pickup truck a man was living in was his home. A 57-year-old man who worked as a janitor. lived in his truck; it was impounded because it was improperly parked and wasn’t moved every 72 hours. The guy said the truck wasn’t running well enough to move it. Of course, Washington law is not California or San Diego law.
The San Diego region does have 3 safe parking lots to help people transition out of their cars into homes. The facilities are not available to people in mobile homes, as they take up too much space. The lots are run by a non-profit called Dreams for Change (phone: 619-497-0236) and the locations are:
- 9882 Aero Drive San Diego, CA 92123
- 8804 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92123
- 766 28th Street, San Diego, CA 92102
However, according to San Diego Union-Tribune
Three “safe” parking lots recently established in San Diego allow overnight parking for homeless individuals, but they don’t accept RVs and have far fewer spaces — 150 — than the estimated 1,000 homeless people living in vehicles locally, the lawsuit says.
Those lots also require users to apply for slots in local homeless shelters, a move that doesn’t make sense for most disabled homeless people living in RVs because shelters aren’t appropriate environments for them, the suit says.
People who are physically disabled may struggle with stairs in shelters and those with mental health problems don’t function well in noisy, dirty, unsafe and overcrowded conditions where there is a lack of privacy, the suit says.
The nonprofit group that operates the safe lots, Dreams for Change, doesn’t allow RVs because they take up more space than cars and because people living in cars typically face greater urgency to find permanent housing.