In a September 11 Orange County Register article by reporter Lou Ponsi entitled 59 Cited for Illegal Camping Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes attributes the recent spate of citations for illegal camping–59 since August 24–to both an increased number of homeless individuals and an increase in complaints about them. “The citations stemmed from complaints from business owners and residents, with most infractions taking place on private property,” notes the author.
But chapter 7.105 of the Fullerton Municipal Code refers to “Camping Unlawfully” as camping in public parks, public streets, public parking lots, public parking structures, and public areas in general. Camping on private property is called trespassing, addressed separately in the code, which begs the question of how someone can be cited for unlawful camping on private property when the ordinance specifically defines the infraction as applying to public spaces.
The article quotes Chief Hughes’ statement that “Homelessness is growing and impacting our communities in ways we have not experienced before,” and “Since there is no other entity able or willing to deal with the issues associated with homelessness, local law enforcement has been given the responsibility to do so.”
There can be little argument that not enough services exist for homeless people, but what is the basis for the claim that “Homelessness is growing?”
The County of Orange’s biennial homeless count came to just the opposite conclusion earlier this year. The county-wide 2013 Point-in-Time survey found that homelessness was actually down overall. Page five of the report shows that homelessness decreased in Orange County, from over 18,000 in 2011 to 12,707 in 2013.
Is homelessness growing in Fullerton while shrinking in the rest of our county? Or the whole country? The report notes that the downward trend in Orange County is consistent with the rest of the U.S. “Given the size, density and income distribution in the County, this estimate is congruent with national figures and provides a reference point with which to compare 2013 data.”
We are left to wonder how and why an overall decreasing population of homeless individuals are somehow a problem in new and novel ways in Fullerton, and why there is a need to suddenly begin enforcing an anti-camping ordinance and improperly apply it to individuals sleeping on private property.
Fullerton activist Stephan Baxter claimed that two months ago the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce instigated the crackdown on homeless people sleeping downtown by demanding that the police department do something about them. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Theresa Harvey has not responded to an email from Fullerton Rag asking for confirmation that such a request was made.
Mr. Baxter is calling for speakers to address the Fullerton City Council about the recent ticketing of homeless people downtown during the public comments period of their next meeting on September 17, 6:30 p.m.
At 8:30 that same night, Mr. Baxter and others plan to camp overnight at the Fullerton Transportation Center to protest the enforcement of the ordinance.