At a small but spirited rally, Ann Menasche, senior attorney with Disability Rights California, likened the new VHO to class separation in the former apartheid practices in South Africa.
“[The City] repealed a bad [ordinance] and they made one worse,” Menasche said. “They only listened to certain people, and didn’t seem to care about other people who support the rights of homeless citizens to live.”
Characterizing the City’s safe parking lots program as a “boondoggle,” Menasche noted, “They didn’t figure out what amenities, like hook-ups, that people need in RVs. They’re treating them like cars. [Safe lots] are in the worst possible locations, far from where they can legally stay during the day.”
In February, the City Council repealed its old VHO after a federal Judge found it unconstitutional and halted all enforcement. The new VHO was approved by City Council on May 14 following a backlash from residents complaining of unsanitary conditions and security issues regarding residents residing on city streets. A vehicle is considered inhabited if there is evidence of sleeping, bathing or meal preparation there.
Under the new law, people are not allowed to sleep in their cars from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., or at any time within 500 feet of homes and schools. Police were “redirecting” vehicle residents to multiple “safe parking places” around the city before issuing tickets.
On July 17, vehicle residents and their supporters spoke out.
Decorated Vietnam veteran Robert Ewing, who lives out of his RV, said: “I’m 65 and I’m just tryin’ to survive, get a good night’s sleep. I’m not trying to get tied up with the law.
“They are running people out. Qualcomm (safe lot) was a joke. Why don’t you help me keep my motorhome? That’s where I live.”
Navy veteran Yusef Miller with Interfaith Worker Justice of San Diego County, a national network advancing the rights of workers through unions, worker centers, etc., delivered a strong message.
“Our brothers and sisters who bled and died for our country are sleeping on the streets with nowhere to go,” he said. “We fought for America. We are all in danger of being homeless ourselves. This is not me. This is you. This is all of us. This is all of our fight.”
Added Miller, “This is America. We fought for everyone to have a livable wage.”
Guitar in hand, before leading everyone in singing “This Land is Your Land,” “We Shall Not be Moved” and “We Shall Overcome,” attorney Menasche said,” They are trying to exclude an entire group of poor people from most City streets, beaches and parks any time of the day or night. They are imposing a 9 p.m. curfew on adults who’ve committed no crimes. Who is this class of pariahs? They are seniors, college students, veterans, low-income families.”
Ralliers in unison chanted, “Housing, not handcuffs.”