Can the City require homeless people to move out of public parks, piers and other places?
Cities and counties are obligated to follow the state and federal laws that clearly define what can and cannot be done when addressing the impacts of homelessness. Generally, case law precludes a city from enforcing its anti-camping laws if there are not places for a homeless person to go.
In September 2018, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in its Martin v. City of Boise that the Eighth Amendment precluded the enforcement of laws prohibiting sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no access to an alternative shelter. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that, as long as there is no option for sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people from sleeping outdoors, on public property.
As a result, local human rights groups asked the federal judge overseeing Orange County’s homeless issues to directly block cities from enforcing anti-camping laws when that city does not have adequate shelter beds or other housing for persons as an alternative sleeping location.
Newport Beach has no such facilities, though it does have one, 12-bed home for veterans operated by a local non-profit. That home is at capacity.
How prevalent is homelessness?
Homelessness is an issue occurring throughout the county, region and state. As of 2018, California’s homeless population was estimated at 130,000.
Locally, the 2019 Point in Time Count observed approximately 6,860 homeless persons in Orange County. Of which, 64 individuals were homeless and unsheltered in Newport Beach.
While some of these more than 6,800 homeless individuals countywide were in shelters, more than half were unsheltered. Meaning, they are living in parks, vacant lots, public transit centers, parking lots and other places not intended for human dwelling.
Is homelessness illegal?
No. It is not illegal to be homeless. Homeless persons have the same rights and responsibilities as any other resident or visitor. Equally, homeless individuals are not exempt from obeying the law. The Newport Beach Police Department responds to illegal activity by anyone within the City limits when laws are broken.
Is Newport Beach going to open a shelter?
Currently, the City does not have a homeless shelter or an alternative sleeping location that can be offered to homeless individuals. One of the responsibilities of the Homeless Task Force is to look at this issue. Any determination of a shelter or its location will be discussed with the community prior to the City Council taking any action.
What is Newport Beach doing to assist homeless people find shelter?
We work with each homeless individual on a case-by-case basis to see if we can get them the services they may be eligible for, including moving them into housing. But, most don’t accept outreach right away. Oftentimes, folks are resistant to seeing case workers or our police officer assigned to work with the homeless (one officer is assigned to this subject matter full-time).
Multiple visits can be required before we can gain someone’s trust to even have them start talking with us to work on their solutions. That is why in addition to our full-time officer, who is assisted by a caseworker from the County’s Healthcare Agency, the City has contracted with CityNet to provide homeless outreach services.
CityNet also deploys staff to assist with street outreach and case management services. Street outreach seeks to connect unsheltered homeless neighbors with emergency shelter, housing, or critical services, healthcare and providing urgent, non-facility-based care.
To best coordinate all of the City’s efforts, in the spring of 2019, the Newport Beach City Council formed a Homeless Task Force. This taskforce is comprised of three Council Members and seven community members who are working to develop a plan to reduce or eliminate homelessness. The planning process includes: developing strategies to integrate all services needed; creating a list of community partners willing to assist with addressing the issues; reviewing and considering temporary housing solutions; and developing metrics to monitor the reduction of homeless.
Each individual has his or her own reasons, but the Point in Time Count found that that many homeless persons are either physically or mentally disabled, some have substance abuse issues, others have mental health or physical health issues, and some are homeless as a result of domestic violence.
Why do so many homeless seem to reside at the bus station in Newport Center?
The bus station is operated and maintained by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). OCTA controls the site, however, the Newport Beach Police Department often assists with incidents that may take place there. OCTA staff currently works under the same legal framework as the City and does not have any shelters that can provide housing to the homeless.
We anticipate that this complex issue will take time and the cooperation of our OCTA partners to resolve, and we are actively working together to develop long-term solutions.