Placerville Homeless Will be Banned From Camping, ‘Aggressive’ Panhandling

Courtesy Flickr user Eli Christman. Licensed under Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/51625243@N06/6810408431

Some of Placerville’s homeless population could soon find themselves under more scrutiny by local police.

The Placerville City Council this week voted to criminalize public camping and aggressive panhandling, saying the new laws would keep the city cleaner and safer.

Police Chief Scott Heller said the city isn’t trying to criminalize homelessness, and the new laws are just “another tool in the toolbox for the department.”

He said officers refer the homeless toward resources like day shelters or nomadic shelters in the area.

“Sometimes it requires an enforcement tool to push the individual toward those resources,” Heller said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Under the new laws, which were both approved by unanimous votes and didn’t receive any public opposition Tuesday, anyone camping on public land in Placerville would have to get a permit from the city connected to a special event, like a scouting trip or a marathon. All other camping, like the kind city staff says has been popping up more around town lately, would be considered a misdemeanor offense. Also illegal under the new law would be storing items somewhere without the property-owner’s permission.

Homeless camps around the city pose fire hazards, health threats and are often occupied by drug users and people wanted for outstanding warrants or other crimes, according to a city staff report.

Camping on private property is also prohibited, although backyard camping for five consecutive nights or less is allowed as long as the property owner says it’s OK.

Hangtown Haven, a legalized homeless camp in Placerville, was closed earlier this year.

Panhandling Law Also Restricts Begging Near Banks and ATMs

Video screenshot of Placerville Police Chief Scott Heller during Tuesday's council meeting.

Video screenshot of Placerville Police Chief Scott Heller during Tuesday’s council meeting. Watch the meeting here: http://youtu.be/jNrs2xyMxFA?t=1h13m40s

Under the second new ordinance approved Tuesday, Placerville homeless will be banned from panhandling near banks, ATMs, check-cashing businesses, on public transit buses, near roadways or intersections, and within 15 feet of gas stations.

The law, which is based on an Auburn ordinance, also bans “aggressive” solicitation, which it defines as begging in a way that intimidates or creates a fear of bodily harm, touching a person or their vehicle, standing in the way of someone while begging, swearing, using violent gestures or closely following someone after asking him or her for money.

The ordinance is aimed at “habitual transient offenders,” which a city staff report says are people who are voluntarily homeless and repeatedly trespass, camp illegally, urinate or defecate in public, use drugs or abuse alcohol in public, or create “a chronic public nuisance for our community.”

The number of times police have come into contact with habitual transient offenders has jumped from an average of 60 times each month last year to an average of 115 times per month so far this year–a 92 percent increase–the staff report states.

Placerville Mayor Wendy Thomas and Chief Heller reiterated Tuesday that the city hopes to focus its efforts on those habitual offenders.

“We are not attempting to criminalize homelessness by any means,” Thomas said.

And the panhandling law does nothing about polite beggars. In fact, solicitation is allowed under the U.S. Constitution, Placerville City Manager John Driscoll said.

Both laws go into effect 30 days after Tuesday’s vote.

(Photo caption: Courtesy Flickr user Eli Christman. Licensed under Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6810408431)

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