Letter: Use of Rights of Method and Public Property Ordinance (aka Tenting Ban) – We are able to do higher!

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As a candidate for our school board, there’s nothing quite like walking into the office on a Friday morning and being bombarded with texts, calls and the like asking if I saw the mayor’s post on Facebook about me and what my response was. For those who know me, I really don’t do Facebook. After calming down the noise, I was finally able to read his comment:

“Disappointed that Rob Jung For Milpitas School Board 2022 opposes proposed city ordinance to ban camp activities around our Milpitas schools – definitely not vote for him”

What was the proposed regulation? Well, at the Sept. 6 City Council meeting, the mayor introduced and the council passed a new ordinance that defines “rights of way” on public byways, in public areas and other places from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. It was introduced as a public safety measure but could have a significant impact on the homeless population as it prohibits storage in these defined areas. The ordinance then outlines the enforcement mechanisms, which include a warning, fines and possible jail time. See here for the ordinance itself. The ordinance passed by a vote of 3-2, with Tran, Montano and Chua voting in favour; phan-no; and Dominguez abstain.

Back to Facebook: my first thought was How did he come to this conclusion? I quickly realized that he had no idea why I would be against the ordinance. He seemed to have concluded that I am against giving way in public places, which I am not. How he got it, only he can tell you. I never said that. And connecting it to schools is a stretch. but It’s irresponsible, and whatever faith I had in him to guide him was gone in seconds. He clearly doesn’t know who I am and what I want. But sharing that with others who don’t know me crosses the line (That’s why I don’t use Facebook. It’s a great way to start a story, and it doesn’t have to be rooted in the truth.). Those who know me know that my goal is to build a community and find win-win solutions.

So, for those who don’t know me, here’s the deal:

I have absolutely no problem with the definition of rights of way and the right of all Milpitians to have access to our public spaces. In our city, I think that’s a good definition. Especially if the definition of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. applies.

But, I would NOT support the Zoning and Public Property Regulations as they stand because:

  • There was no real discussion about it Costs of enforcing this regulation. If the city is already experiencing high rates of property crime (such as auto and catalytic converter thefts, burglaries, vandalism, etc.), how much of MPD’s valuable resources would need to be spent on it, and what is the right priority?
  • There are a few questions about communication around and implementation of this new regulation:
    • How will the city communicate this new ordinance to the homeless? Will it only be through non-accommodation that violate this new policy? Remember that many of our homeless people do not have internet, phone service, access to newspapers, etc.
    • Will the signage in sensitive areas be removed immediately after the deadline specified in the resolution? Or will the signage have an expiry date that is also stated?
    • How will you deal with people who are disabled or seriously ill and may need help moving their items to a suitable location if asked (ie willing to move but cannot)?
  • criminalization of the homeless. This approach states that MPD officers would handle enforcement. While MPD does a great job of reaching out to our homeless with compassion, it’s still quite intimidating and stressful for someone who feels like “society has already put a hard kick in their mouths” or maybe already in trouble with the law.

Since, as the mayor said, this does nothing to solve homelessness, there is a chance that more homeless people will live on our streets due to inflation, continued increases in housing costs and other economic factors. This ordinance tells them they have to move or get a fine or go to jail. But where do you tell them exactly where to move to? Since there is no real answer to this question, they are more likely to be fined they cannot afford or end up in jail.

Many of the homeless try to get off the streets. They don’t want to be there, but their circumstances limit their options. Being fined and jailed for having nowhere to go increases the barriers for them to return to society. This “kick them when they’re down” approach actually makes things worse for our homeless, which is counterproductive to the community goal of getting them off our streets.

Proposed remediation step – a win-win situation

Instead of using MPD as a “first responder”, we have the HEAT team and/or trained volunteers (e.g. from Hope for the Unhoused) approach the homeless and inform them of the “right of way” violation. These people then also attend to other potential needs such as food and water, medical needs through the VHHP backpacking team, assessments to queue for county accommodation, etc. MPD should be aware of contact for assistance if needed afford to. By providing these services, our homeless people are more likely to work with us to avoid violating this policy again, and they know they have someone to turn to. It gives the homeless an opportunity to get help without being intimidated or defensive. With this approach, enforcement would only be required if the detainee refused assistance or relocation.

Why do we need this in the regulation?

This is intentional. When we have that provision in the regulation, it will let future administrations and those who need to enforce them, as well as the community, know what we have in mind. Without that understanding, it should come as no surprise that implementing this policy would criminalize our homeless. So let’s make sure that this corrective step is included in the policy.

We can do better

I urge the City Council to address the issues I raised and add a corrective step to create better policies for our community. Ultimately, I believe it is in the best interest of the community that this policy and its enforcement be something that is rarely used. If we create more opportunities and routes for the homeless to find permanent shelter, they won’t be on our streets. We know this is possible. Take Hope for the Unhoused for example: since April last year we have helped put 16 homeless people into permanent housing. These 16 people will not violate this policy if they continue with the full service they have.

But creating these opportunities and paths is not easy. It requires strong relationships with the homeless, as well as good partnerships with other non-profit organizations, local authorities, county authorities and the state, all working together to make this happen. And that’s where the city can get better.

Rob Young

Chairman of the Board of Hope for the Unhoused