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California Homeless Crisis Grows As State Is Reluctant To Use Powerful Law (CA. GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 8698-8698.2)
“Across the country, women and children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, the alliance says. And shelters across the state have only enough beds for a small fraction of the dispossessed: The St. John’s Shelter for Women and Children in Sacramento turns away hundreds of people each night for this reason and leaves them to fend for themselves.
But one of the state’s most powerful tools to assist this vulnerable population is hardly being used. Buried within California’s legal codes is a 25-year-old statute that allows counties and municipalities to declare a state of emergency when a “significant number” of homeless people exist in a community, allowing them to convert public facilities into shelters and even to change zoning codes to site shelters in most neighborhoods.
Yet since the law was passed in 1987 — and as the homeless population increased — few communities have invoked the statute, and when they do, it is almost always just to set up temporary winter shelters. As a result of a lack of political will, neighborhood resistance and budget constraints, this law has rarely been tapped to ease the suffering of the dispossessed.”
“It is almost unparalleled in its potential,” National Coalition for the Homeless executive director Neil Donovan said about the statute. “But it’s a challenge [for California] because of the financial crisis that they’re in. Other communities use similar statutes far more effectively. I’m thinking of Boston, which opens up its armories when overcrowding happens.”
The reluctance to take action frustrates advocates for homeless people.
“It’s a very powerful statute in the sense that once a shelter crisis has been declared — it could be done on a statewide level by the governor or on a county level — there are just about no restrictions to housing the homeless anywhere,” said civil liberties lawyer Mark Merin. “But there are very few instances where it has been invoked. Any mayor or board of supervisors which has not declared a shelter crisis should be asked – Why not?