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State lawmakers want to ban homeless encampments near schools, parks and transit stops

Person in yellow vest pulls on blue tent sitting in front of wall with graffiti
A San Francisco public works employee removes a tent in San Francisco. Nineteen state senators have signed onto the bill, which is modeled after a San Diego ordinance. | Source: Philip Pacheco for The Standard

Describing California’s homelessness crisis as “inhumane” and “unhealthy,” Senate GOP leader Brian Jones of San Diego and Democratic Sen. Catherine Blakespear of Encinitas announced on Tuesday a bipartisan bill to ban homeless encampments near “sensitive community areas” statewide. 

Modeled after San Diego’s “Unsafe Camping Ordinance,” Senate Bill 1011 prohibits encampments within 500 feet of schools, open spaces and major transit stops. It also bans camping on sidewalks if shelter space is available; requires cities or counties to give an unhoused person 72-hour notice before clearing an encampment; and mandates “enforcement personnel” to provide information about homeless shelters in the area.

“California has spent $22 billion in the past six years on homelessness, and what do we have to show for it? Nearly a 40% increase in homeless population,” Jones said. “Clearly, California’s current approach to homelessness is failing, and Californians are tired of it.”

The most recent count found more than 181,000 unhoused Californians last year, 28% of the national total.

READ MORE: Even the mayor felt confused when San Francisco tried to count its homeless population

Adding that it is “not our goal to criminalize homelessness,” Jones said that the state’s homelessness issue is a nonpartisan issue. He touted the bill’s 18 other co-authors of both parties, including Blakespear, who said that San Diego’s camping ordinance has moved about 60% of people off its downtown streets since going into effect in July.

Though both legislators emphasized clearing encampments “compassionately,” advocates for unhoused people argue that displacing homeless people from their dwellings is traumatizing and dangerous to their health. And despite the state’s current $750 million, multiyear initiative to clear homeless encampments, it remains uncertain whether a significant number of the displaced homeless individuals will find permanent housing.

If the bill is passed, it’s also unclear how it will shake out with a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In January, the high court agreed to hear a case that has the potential to either grant California cities and counties more authority to clear homeless encampments and penalize those who sleep on streets—or continue to restrict them from enforcing camping bans.

There is also bipartisan support for giving local governments more power. Gov. Gavin Newsom, in particular, has railed against court rulings that have tied local officials’ hands.