The Chino City Council on Tuesday night addressed a recent federal law that does not allow police officers to issue criminal or administrative citations to homeless people camping in a public place or sleeping in a vehicle in a public place when no alternative shelter is available to them.

Prior to Tuesday, Chino’s municipal code did not allow camping in public parks, rights-of-way or other areas open to the public.

The city made the change to comply with a ruling handed down by the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in 2018, called Martin v. City of Boise. The court ruled that imposing criminal sanctions against homeless people for sleeping outdoors or on public property when no other shelter is available to them violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments.

Criteria established

The revisions to the city’s municipal code also establishes five criteria for determining if a sleeping space in a shelter is practical for the homeless person, including: transportation available to the person; the distance between the homeless shelter and the location of the person; the opening, closing and check-in times of the shelter; limitations on the amount of consecutive nights a person can stay at the shelter or other similar requirements; and any other circumstance of the person or any policy or requirement of the homeless shelter that would preclude a particular homeless person from staying there, even if it did not preclude other homeless people.

Despite the changes to the code, it will still be unlawful for any person to obstruct a right-of-way, create a health or safety risk to passersby in a right-of-way, or interfere with the “use and enjoyment” of public parks and facilities. The city will also be able to enforce traffic and parking regulations regarding people sleeping in their vehicles.

Helping the homeless

In a report to the council Tuesday, Police Chief Wes Simmons said the police department has been taking “proactive measures” to address the homeless and public camping that respects the rights of the homeless and maintains safe, sanitary and unobstructed conditions in the city’s parks and rights-of-ways.

For about a year, the city has partnered with the non-profit group Social Work Action Group (SWAG) to assist homeless people in the city. Chief Simmons said SWAG calls on the police department for help in transporting the homeless to shelters, relocating their property and enforcing criminal violations, when needed. He also said SWAG has worked with other city departments to help the homeless obtain government benefits, move into housing and reunite with their families. 

Last spring, Chino police officers took a special interest in a longtime homeless woman with medical issues who has been living in a shopping center in north Chino for nearly a year. They talked to her about getting help, checked on her welfare and arranged transportation for her to San Bernardino to apply for county benefits and look into housing options.

A one-day count of the homeless on Jan. 24 found 23 in Chino and four in Chino Hills. 

The city of Chino Hills was unable to respond by press time regarding any policy it may have regarding homeless sleeping in public places.

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