Archives for category: Homeless Shelter

Stephan Baxter

September 11, 2013

An Open Letter to The Fullerton City Council

To the Honorable Bruce Whitaker, Mayor of Fullerton, and The Fullerton City Council Members,

The purpose of this letter is to request that Municipal code “7.105.020 – Camping unlawfully”, which I will from here on out refer to as the “no-camping ordinance”, and which was very much the topic of discussion at the last council meeting, be placed on the September 17th agenda. Considering the attention this issue is getting in the community and in the press, I believe that adding it to the agenda as soon as possible is warranted. I would greatly appreciate it if each of you would confirm receipt of this request and let me know if I can count on you to have it added. If you will not support my request, I humbly ask that you briefly state a reason for not doing so in your response to me.

Good people can disagree on policy, but good people should not prevent a discussion which may put an issue that is as divisive and as controversial as the criminalization of homelessness to bed. Fullerton is, at least in part, nationally known as the city that hired the officers who beat a homeless man to death. With the news trucks soon on their way to Orange County to cover the historic murder trial of 2 Fullerton officers, and in the process, to fill air space with nice “man on the street” stuff about how things have progressed since all of the success the reformers had a year ago, putting a positive spin on this current situation will be a little awkward. One thing is clear, this recent round of stupidity is certainly not helpful in getting Fullerton’s reputation past its darkest moment, and I suggest we put a moratorium on enforcing the no-camping violations until suitable accommodations are found for a 200 plus bed, year-round, emergency homeless shelter. For all concerned, this needs to be added to the agenda right away.

The newly-elected officials, especially those who now sit on city council, in part at least because of the political fallout of Kelly’s Thomas’ murder (I would argue that this applies to all of you, excepting the Mayor), need to go on record regarding a law that essentially makes being homeless a crime. You are in that seat because the public thought you could handle issues like this, and because they knew Bankhead, Jones, and McKinley could or would not. You owe it to those of us that voted for you to go on the record.

I am hopeful that, after an honest assessment of the political landscape during which you ran for office, at least one of you will personally come to the conclusion that you owe this opportunity to be on the city council in great part to the fate which befell Kelly Thomas. And when you have come to that conclusion, I believe that you are morally called upon to improve the lives of those with whom Kelly shared the streets. Perhaps you will then conclude, as I have already concluded for you, that you need to pay a VIG to Kelly’s memory. During your tenure in office, perhaps you will also conclude, as I have already also concluded for you, that you should pay your debt to Kelly by being a champion for the homeless, a champion for the mentally ill, and a champion for police oversight. Maybe this is your test of courage, and how you create your political legacy. We desperately need someone on the council to “own” the homeless issue. Wanting to be a champion for the dignified treatment of ALL of Fullerton’s residents is not controversial in polite society. . This could be someone’s legacy if someone cared, because I’m not hearing any acknowledgement from any of you that your political career exists, or was revitalized, because a homeless man was murdered. I would also like to point out that had Kelly survived the brutal beating on July 5th, 2011, he would now be getting cited for camping. That is NO way to pay your VIG. It’s your turn to do better than the last bunch. Let’s address the no-camping ordinance, put its enforcement on hold, and find an appropriate site for a shelter. Let’s do what your predecessors were incapable of, let’s do the right thing.

To forbid the homeless in this town from essentially sleeping will not go over well once it gets picked up on by the media. I contend that, even if our elected officials haven’t, the community of Fullerton has learned from the mistakes of the past, and is motivated not to repeat them. Individuals and little collections of self-interested pacs and/or associations may not, but collectively, Fullerton will never again look away when we learn about a grave injustice, especially one which carries with it the same dehumanizing odor that was thick in the air on the evening of July 5th, 2011, the evening that Kelly Thomas was beat to death as he cried out for mercy. If these citations were a bit of muscle-flexing by those who want to return to how things were before, and the criminalization of Fullerton’s homeless population were the subject, and this issue will establish once and for all that we are in a New Fullerton, a caring Fullerton with residents that are tuned in and take action, then so be it, we are ready! FPD’s position is indefensible and Fullerton hates bullies of any kind. Our community: the moms, the fathers, the students, the artists, the educators, musicians, bartenders, accountants, merchants, servers, nurses, small business owners and super rad yoga instructors, stood up and were counted when another homeless man was humiliated, devalued and treated without dignity, and once the message gets out that we are now citing the homeless as a class, not for what they have done, but for who we perceive them to be, the same will happen again. We all worked too hard for this to be the end result.

With this request it is my hope and my expectation that with a review of the no-camping ordinance, along with statements from some of the homeless who have been cited about the actual application of this law (which is quite different than the idealized version Chief Hughes spoke to at the last council meeting), we will demonstrate that the enforcement of this code is almost always counterproductive, always cynical, and nothing close to resembling an actual policy or solution to the “homeless problem”.

This does not mean that we should not be responsive to the needs of downtown businesses and residents. After all, our government does not suffer from a scarcity of laws which address human behavior, and which are perfectly suited to address the individual troublemakers in downtown. Be they the homeless, the weekend bar crowd, or a wayward Rotary Club member who mixed too many Xanax with her Pinot Noir, hold these individuals accountable for their actions, but do not apply presumption of guilt to all of those who don’t have a home.

These anti-homeless laws are, essentially, lazy, catch-all laws, that target the segment of the community with the least resources. In addition to all of the other flaws possessed by the no-camping ordinance, it doesn’t do a very good job of clearly identifying who, amongst the homeless, are the “bad guys”. We’re told that “the worst of the worst” are getting these tickets. I would like Chief Hughes to explain to us how a law which in order for it to apply, must find someone sleeping in public, is helpful in isolating the good guys from the bad (exception to all with a swastika on the forehead). Even I look like angel when I’m sleeping. And that statement is pure B.S .because we already personally know some who have been ticketed and they are good people

I appreciate the f/up that Council Member Jan Flory had at the last council meeting. The responses from Dan Hughes were the ideal, not the practice, but more importantly it put the Chief on record. But given the silence at the last meeting on this topic by all but Ms. Flory, it appears that the expectations of the public, a public that Voted for reform by a 3/2 margin may not be clear to all of you, because I can’t find anyone, anywhere, of any party, who could have imagined that ticketing people for the condition of homelessness would be how our city officials, elected and appointed (some of whom were riding the “Justice For Kelly” wave pretty hard, and were in fact hyper-critical of the police during last year’s recall election), would handle this situation. You are looking away instead of intervening on another dehumanizing policy at the hands of our police.

When I was celebrating the successful recall of Bankhead, Jones and McKinley (taking full advantage of our generous host’s open bar), I had no idea that one year later I would be arguing this hard to get the new council to understand why criminalizing all homeless people in Fullerton is not what we had in mind when we voted for change reform. I also would not have thought that three of you would have voted down a homeless shelter. To increase the enforcement of a 1992 no camping citation (by approx. 2000%) only weeks before the murder trial of another homeless person, and to do so in a community which only two months ago said no to a shelter, is to me obnoxiously unfathomable.

Doing the right thing doesn’t need to be difficult, it really doesn’t. Some things, the things that test our ethics, can smell bad from a mile away. It shouldn’t take a ton of arguing and hurt feeling to convince others that those things need to be gone. Enforcing a municipal code on people that have no choice but to be in violation of that code does not stand up any cursory application of “fairness”. Despite pressure from powerful business interests in this town, and the potential for blowback from some who contributed to your campaigns, if the undeniable on fairness of this issue does not compel you to want to stop its application, one should ask of you what it will take before you are willing to cross the wishes of the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce.

This is not a difficult one guys. Until recently (OC Register 3/13, by Lou Ponsi), the chief of police himself agreed with what I am proposing.

Please respond by letting me know if you support putting this issue on the agenda.

We hope this can be resolved swiftly and fairly, through traditional channels.

More information can be found here:

With Respect and friendship,

Stephan Baxter

Fullerton CA

baxter-protest-webStephan Baxter

I contend that we should cite “illegal actions,” rather than the condition of homelessness.

I am offended to the core that a city which two years ago made national news with up to six on-duty officers, employed and trained our own Police Department, murdering a local unarmed homeless man named Kelly Thomas, recently voted down a proposed homeless shelter, and is now making news again for actively enforcing a no camping city ordinance and criminalizing homelessness in the process.

My position is that until the city of Fullerton has a homeless shelter or can otherwise provide shelter to those they cite for being homeless, we cannot in good conscience enforce a 1992 municipal code which targets the condition of homelessness.  The homeless do learn to be resourceful, but none that I know of – and I know a good many of them – have mastered the act of vaporizing.  Being homeless somewhere else is not the answer.  Specifically to the mental ill who live in our streets, if homelessness is a crime, the guilt lies not with the homeless, it lies with us.

I believe that parks, transportation centers and all public space should be safe for families and their children.  I am not of the opinion that we should grant amnesty to the homeless.  The police should treat the homeless very much like every other segment of our population:  ticket, seek services for, and if warranted arrest, any person that is breaking the law or disturbing the peace if the do not comply.  If they are drunk in public, address the act of public drunkenness.  If they are assaulting a passersby, selling drugs, doing any of the things that some are being accused of, address the acts that they are committing, not the condition of homelessness they find themselves in.

Go to downtown Fullerton on a Friday night and see who is actually getting in fights and urinating in the streets.  It’s not the homeless, it’s the bar crowd.  Yet college students are not being picked up at random and cited for their student status. Our policy should not be to cite homeless people in the vicinity where someone has called in a general complaint about “the homeless”. That is what is exactly what happened to two decent people who are friends and that is why some of us spoke at city council on August 20. They were cited not for what they did, but for their inability to afford an apartment or motel room, and that is offensive. I love Fullerton but I hate this policy.

With the murder trial of two of the six officers accused in the death of Kelly Thomas scheduled for October 18th, and a third not far behind, Fullerton was on a path of healing and we were making great progress in becoming a more loving, accepting and creative community, but if after all that has been accomplished in the last two years, we now react by making the condition of homelessness illegal, and good people living on the margins are criminalized, we have made things worse not better, and this realization should call us to action.

One of the ways which we can resolve this issue is to have the council exercise its right to remove the city ordinance from the books with a majority vote.  To that end I had breakfast Monday morning with one member of the city council, who agreed that the enforcement of the no camping ordinance, in a city that thus far has not provided any viable alternative for those sleeping outdoors, is counterproductive and not a real solution.  This council member indicated that, if my claims regarding the recent citations referenced in this video are true, they will share my concern that the citations are not targeting those who cause problems. This council member will do more homework on the subject and, once verified, said that they will help us in our goal of ending this practice by reaching out to others on the council. Once I have a clear statement of our objectives and our plan, I will ask them and others if I can publicly state that we have their support.  There may be some who support our objectives but are not comfortable supporting the means by which we get there, and I do not want to put anyone in a position where they must refute a statement we make.  For now I am not disclosing this council person’s name.

Later that day I met with the Mayor Bruce Whitaker and the City Attorney Dick Jones (“The Other Dick Jones”, not to be confused with the recalled council member) for over an hour.  I thank Mayor Whittaker for getting me this meeting with the attorney and for the time they both carved out of their busy afternoon to meet with me.  I was there to find out as much as possible regarding this “unlawful camping” citation and who holds power to dismiss or otherwise not enforce it.  Here is the code.

First Impressions: I was very grateful for the meeting but if condescension was a virtue, our city attorney would be the Great Jehovah. It was with substantial effort and through the gnashing of teeth, that the following information was provided to me:

  • The city attorney or his staff review all the municipal cases the FPD sends to them and they decide if they would like to prosecute or not. The city attorney plans to review each of the recent camping violations himself if they make it to his desk.
  • The FPD may cite individuals and then decide not to take it further themselves. e.g. none of the no honking tickets issued by FPD last year to cars showings support at KT Protest ever made it to his desk. For lack of a better description they were torn up before his department could get involved.
  • Chief Dan Hughes has the power to do the same with the recent citations. If my claims are true the city attorney agreed that Dale and Julia (the subjects of our comments to the city council on August 20) clearly are not good examples of “the homeless problem.”
  • While it is true that the citation is defined as a misdemeanor, and that fines can potentially be over $2,000, the city attorney does not believe the judge, especially the homeless judge in Santa Ana, would impose the maximum fine.  Dick Jones had pre-selected five examples in the last year where fines were $40.00 and below or were paid through community service.  He could not tell me if there were other examples where the fines were much higher.  I requested that he get back to me on that.
  • In response to a question Dick Jones said that in his role as city attorney he could advise the Chief of Police that it is in the city’s best interest, in terms of legal exposure and liability, to not enforce the no camping ordinance. He, however, has no plans to do so, and I failed to convince him that increased contacts with the homeless to enforce this code could result in more lawsuits and more settlements.
  • The city attorney believes that these citation are business as usual and that they have been issued all along.  He said that he does not characterize the recent citations of a change in policy, or out of the ordinary.
  • He believes that these citations are a last resort and issued only when citizens call to complain about the homeless, and that only those who refuse to comply with “self help” (too convoluted to explain here but anything from “moving along” to agreeing to be admitted to a hospital, would fall under self help) are issued tickets.
  • Neither Mayor Bruce Whitaker or City Attorney Dick Jones have any recollection of then acting Chief Hughes making a statement in regard to not enforcing this code until a homeless shelter is in place in Fullerton. I may be wrong about that, so if anyone can find a clip or story where Dan Hughes makes this claim please forward it to me. Dick Jones stated that even if the chief made such a claim he is under no legal obligation to keep it.
  • Both the mayor and the Other Dick Jones feel that I need to meet with the Chief of Police and address the enforcement with him. They did not want to help facilitate this meeting so I will reach out to Dan Hughes.
  • No one hugged at the meeting’s conclusion!

My personal impressions after spending an hour with the mayor and city attorney (these are not facts):

  • It was not a pleasant meeting, and the unpleasantness could have only been avoided if I had agreed with everything they were telling me and if I did not ask any follow up questions.
  • Although we have had a good relationship over the last few years, especially regarding the recall and the overreaching practices of FPD (Justice for Kelly. etc.) I do not believe that the mayor will support us here.  There is nothing I would rather do than retract that statement and thank him for his help, as Bruce Whittaker is often the only member of the city council to show up at protest in response to an incident of police abuse and he was vocal regarding Kelly Thomas.  My presumption is that as an advocate for small government he must not be comfortable with idea of tax dollars and city government providing a shelter. He stated that he prefers that charities do these things (not verbatim), not government. I do not, however, conclude by this that he lacks compassion for the homeless, he has shown a lot of compassion to Kelly’s family as they were mourning their son.  Again I hope I am wrong about this. I hope that he comes to understand that a municipal code targeting the CONDITION of homelessness rather than a particular ILLEGAL ACTION of a homeless person, is a far greater violation of Libertarian principals and personal responsibility than providing housing to those most in need is.
  • There is a great fear among city leaders that Fullerton is becoming a destination point for the homeless and both The mayor and The city attorney believe that the removal of this municipal code when made public will translate to an even larger homeless population.  My impression is that they believe that cracking down on the homeless, regardless of its fair application (they may have convinced themselves that only the worst of the worst get these tickets) is preferable to attracting more homeless tourists (my word not theirs) and them getting more complaints from citizens and The Chamber of Commerce.
  • There is a huge gap between how they both believe the city ordinance is being applied and how it is actually being applied.  I believe that the mayor will look into the claims I was making during our meeting, I would like to believe that the city attorney will do the same. If he does, the recent tickets that we were speaking about should be dismissed if we believe what he said during the meeting.  “If they are not causing a problem they would not be ticketed.”  Time served should be given in regard to Dale not signing his ticket.
  • The onslaught of homeless hypotheticals and analogies given to me during or meeting as justification for the no camping code, was soul-crushing (this is fact). AS of today I have been given nothing by anyone in city government which would make me believe that planned isolated 1-day camp-ins by a group of us, in protest of the criminalizing of homelessness in a city with no shelter, should not move forward.  I will, however, continue to reach out to leaders as my preference is that this goes away without us having to do so.  I will also continue to build the framework to pull this off successfully.

Eventually the hypocrisy of ticketing the homeless for being homeless in a city that offers no recourse other than to be homeless somewhere else, and the blanket punishment of a segment of our population without regard of any individual’s actions will resonate with both conservative and liberal residents.  This practice goes against all the basic principles that we as Americans have come to believe in and this will trump any inconvenience the homeless may cause them.  The ideals of personal responsibility and a collective presumption of innocents, ideals that I believe the mayor, the city attorney and the chief of police believe in as well, are assaulted by the enforcement of the no camping code in Fullerton.  If empathy were equally applied to all residents of Fullerton they would reach the same conclusion.

If we can get this message out we win this thing and we can continue forward with Fullerton’s slow transformation to becoming a more loving, accepting and creative community to live and work in.  If I must violate the camping ordinance myself in order to get that message out I will, and I hope some of you will consider joining me once all other efforts are exhausted.  I prefer we do this without camping, I don’t camp!

The City of Fullerton is preparing to officially lease the temporarily closed Hunt Branch Library to Grace Ministries International (GMI) for a sum of $ 1,500 per month, beginning September 1 of this year. The Hunt library is over 10,000 square feet in size, according to Fullerton Heritage. It was designed by William Pereira, who also designed the elegant modern office building now owned by GMI, located directly to the west of the library. GMI intends to lease the library space while its offices are renovated.

The terms of the lease require GMI to reserve about 2,000 square feet (“about one-fourth,” according to the staff report) for storage of library books and other materials.

GMI would lease the facility for 18 months, with an option to extend that length of time by 6 months, subject to City Council approval. Using the city’s estimate of “about one fourth” as a reference point, GMI would lease the other three fourths, approximately 6,000 square feet of building space, for 25 cents per square foot. While it is true that the Hunt is located in a somewhat remote location, a quarter per square foot (plus utilities) seems like a pretty generous rate for GMI. This entire arrangement would only benefit the city $ 27,000 for the initial term of the lease. Money in the bank, to be sure, and it all counts in this economy, but is this really the best we can get for an historic mid-century building designed by a world famous architect?

An acquaintance suggested that he and his fellow homeless friends should instead be allowed to collectively contribute $ 1,500 per month to rent the Hunt as a shelter. While this unlikley plan might run into opposition from neighbors, it does relate to one other detail of the proposed lease.

The city would be required to “provide fencing around the access points to the railroad area….” Readers will recall that a large gap in the fence between the railroad property and the library allowed easy access to the Hunt Branch to anyone walking along the tracks on the north side. This access almost certainly contributed to the growth of the large homeless encampment that existed there for months, right up to the point when the city decided that they would all be thrown out for the benefit of the new lessee. Once again, one must ask what prevented the city from patching the fence last Spring when the Hunt Branch was abruptly closed because it was said to have become too dangerous a place for library staff and patrons.

In addition to the lease arrangements, the agenda item also proposes the formation of a committee to assist with a plan to improve the site in the future. More on that proposal soon…

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