As encampments grow in outdoor public spaces, the mayor of Redding, California has requested a state of emergency and the right to implement an involuntary lock-down homeless shelter.
Homelessness in California is not just an urban issue anymore, with the state now accounting for 25 percent of the U.S. homeless population. The problem has grown acutely in rural areas, as large-scale wildfires like California’s deadliest-ever Camp Fire destroyed homes and left tens of thousands without shelter in its aftermath. Many of those people have trouble getting back on their feet, and the most recent Shasta County homeless point-in-time count showed a nearly 20 percent increase in homelessness since prior to the Camp and Carr fires.
The Shasta County seat of Redding has seen a spike in tent encampments, particularly along the Sacramento River, according to the Redding Record Searchlight. Mayor Julie Winter has sent a state-of-emergency request to Gov. Gavin Newsom, approved by the Redding City Council last week, that requests the right to involuntarily detain people into homeless shelters, as Jefferson Public Radio reports.
Mayor Winter’s letter to Newsom complains that people who “camp along the River [are] causing pollution of various sources to enter into sensitive waterways” of a community for whom fishing is a significant revenue source and tourism draw. “I’ve accompanied our teams offering services to these individuals who routinely decline shelter, services or treatment. Many of those contacted appear to be under the influence of an unknown substance and/or suffering from mental illness.”
She told Jefferson Public Radio that the solution “might be a low-security facility, but it’s not a facility you could just leave because you wanted to,” adding that, “You need to get clean, you need to get sober, you need to demonstrate self-sufficiency, and once you do that you’re free to go.”
As Vice points out, that’s basically incarceration. “There’s a lot of reasons why this kind of approach is not likely legal,” National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty legal director Eric Tars tells the publication. “I would call it an internment camp, or a concentration camp. If it’s not a jail, then what else could it possibly be?”
Vice also spoke to the founder of the Redding Coalition for the Homeless, who noted this population has significant numbers of elderly people and displaced fire victims.
This strategy is not completely unlike the Mayor Breed and Sen. Scott Wiener-backed conservatorship programs, except this version is on steroids. The proposed SF conservatorship program only applies to a small percentage of unhoused people, and would only be used in cases of extreme and untreated mental illness. The Redding version, as written, could force any unhoused person into a shelter, and the local government could take control of their finances. This is an aggressive move that would almost certainly end up in the courts, but shows how Californians are becoming increasingly more hostile about the homelessness issue.
Image: Dougrone via Flickr