The homeless are everywhere; just take a walk down State Street or any other street with commercial frontage in Lompoc and other cities, and you will see them with their signs or worse sleeping in the bushes or on the sidewalk.

A recent case involving a law enacted in Boise, Idaho, came before the 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

This court is noted for two things: One, it makes very convoluted interpretations of constitutional law; two, it is often overturned by the Supreme Court.

The Boise law was designed to clean up the city’s downtown areas by forbidding sleeping on the streets, much like the shiftless do in Santa Barbara and elsewhere.

But, the 9th Circuit determined that this was a violation of the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Eighth Amendment says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

How forbidding sleeping on a cold sidewalk could be construed as “cruel and unusual punishment” seems questionable.

The panel “held that the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment precluded the enforcement of a statute prohibiting sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no access to alternative shelter.

“And, as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
 
This presents an interesting situation for those of us who take pride in our cities.

Public property would include the courtyard of city hall, courthouse steps, parks, sidewalks, the entrance to police stations and any other place owned and maintained by local governments.

Feeling the thrill of victory, the next challenge for homeless advocates is to challenge oversized vehicle parking bans; these are predominantly those campers and small camp trailers you see along the streets, which are used to house the homeless; what can we do about it?

Noozhawk reported that “a lawsuit filed Wednesday (Sept. 19) challenges Santa Barbara’s oversized vehicle parking ban, alleging it violates constitutional rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Santa Barbara’s municipal code section prohibits the parking of any vehicle on public streets for more than 72 hours and authorizes law enforcement to remove a car from the streets and prohibits parking a mobile home for more than two hours and from 2-6 a.m. on any street, according to the lawsuit. This is consistent with the California Vehicle Code.

In Lompoc, a city park on the eastern end of town is the site of a “homeless triage center.”

Basically, it’s supposed to be a temporary camp for the homeless who were evicted from the riverbed, but it has become a magnate for the homeless from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and elsewhere.

The attraction is three meals a day, access to benefits, medical care and the hope of more permanent housing.

This camp was only supposed to be open for 30 days, but there are rumors swirling that some do-gooder will try to make it a permanent camp for all the county’s homeless.

There have been problems at the camp. Apparently, the inhabitants have a problem following the rules, they argue and fight among themselves and verbally abuse the staff.

Many have been asked to leave, but to where? Some have been arrested for returning to the riverbed and others simply migrate into town.

Cleaning up their mess in the riverbed is estimated to cost close to $500,000, and they haven’t gotten a firm estimate yet or figured out how to pay for it.

Homelessness, instead of being a temporary condition caused by the loss of work, has become a lifestyle for many societal drop outs, the mentally ill and the veterans of our many conflicts who just can’t cope with life.

President John F. Kennedy and California Gov. Ronald Reagan both closed mental health institutions several decades ago.  These were basically lockups with no real treatment provided to patients.

The second phase of this process was supposed to create new state-of-the-art treatment centers, however the only part that got completed was the closing of the insufficient institutions.

The current practice to allow them to simply sleep on the streets isn’t a very humanitarian way to address the problem of the mentally ill; and it certainly isn’t fair to people who want a clean and healthful public space.

By the same token, will providing them with well-appointed accommodations for free encourage them to help themselves or just enable their shiftless lifestyle?

If activists really wanted to help the homeless, they’d focus their energy on demanding Sacramento complete the mental health treatment program started by Kennedy and Reagan several decades ago, instead of placing the burden on local communities.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at news@noozhawk.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.