Group suing City over new vehicle habitation ordinance
Published - 12/02/19 - 08:00 AM | 4934 views | 2 2 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An attorney representing people living out of their vehicles claims the City’s safe parking lots program is inadequate, while legally challenging the City’s new Vehicle Habitation Ordinance as being unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the City defended its safe parking lots program, noting it was a step forward when a public outcry over health and safety concerns over vehicle habitation on public streets forced the drafting of a new ordinance banning vehicle occupation.

“We have asked the court to amend our complaint in our lawsuit to add the new vehicle habitation ordinance,” said Ann Menasche, senior attorney with Disability Rights California. “We think we have a good chance of winning in court.”

Claiming the new VHO is “worse than the first,” Menasche said nine of 11 of her clients who signed on to the suit challenging the ordinance have since been cited for violating it.

“Not one of them has been offered housing,” Menasche said. “The city has made things worse by taking people’s vehicles. Stop impounding vehicles and throwing people in the street with the clothes on their back.”

Of the new City VHO, Menasche said: “It’s very rigid. It’s very patronizing. It doesn’t solve anything.”

Keely Halsey, the City’s chief of homelessness strategies, defended San Diego’s safe lots program. The program allows people living out of RVs and other vehicles to legally spend the night in three designated parking lots on Balboa Avenue, off Aero Drive, and on Friars Road across from Qualcomm Stadium, all run by Jewish Family Services of La Jolla.

“We’re pleased with the results of our safe parking program, which has definitely served a segment of the homeless population,” said Halsey. “That program has served families and children of people who’ve fallen into homelessness due to economic issues. It has filled a gap that we’ve become aware of in the last few years in the City.”

Halsey said the City’s Real Estate Assets Department is searching for new safe parking lots sites, should the need arise. She added the City is also open to any private individuals who might step forward offering their own properties for the safe-lots program.

“We would love to talk to anybody offering their properties any time,” said Halsey. 

Between 2017 and the present, Halsey noted “over 1,500 individuals have been served in the safe lots program including 300 children, and over 200 of those children have exited the program to permanent housing or other long-term, stable housing. We’ve also worked with individuals to increase their income through case management services and job training.”

There are presently between 200 and 320 spaces in the City’s three current safe parking lots administered by JFS. Halsey said those safe lots have mobile office trailers for caseworkers, access to restrooms and all of them have hand-washing stations. People living out of their vehicles are allowed in safe parking lots from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

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 the 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 VHO, people are not allowed to sleep in their cars on public streets from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. 

Menasche said the City’s new VHO makes anyone having a pillow, blanket or some food or water in their vehicles a criminal. She noted the VHO also bars vehicle inhabitants from legally inhabiting “90% or more of the city,” because the ordinance precludes those vehicles from being located within 500 feet of a home or school. 

“It is illegal for those sheltered in RVs or cars to be in most places in the city day or night,” said Menasche. “People are being treated as criminals because they are poor when what they really need is housing that is affordable.”

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