Tougher rules governing panhandling and loitering were recently approved by Temecula’s council as a way to curb the impacts of homelessness.
That action – along with stepped-up work by an alliance of agencies and local governments – heightened the city’s focus on what it calls a “pressing regional concern.”
The problem of aggressive panhandling was described at the Oct. 11 council meeting as “extremely disturbing and disruptive to residents and businesses.” That has led to, according to a staff report, “an enhanced sense of fear, intimidation and disorder” in the city.
Those steps followed an August vote to ban overnight parking in key lots that are owned or controlled by Temecula. Those actions came two years after the city joined its largest church and a decades-old nonprofit group in targeting the nettlesome problem of homelessness.
At that time, Temecula officials worried that the city risked becoming “a magnet” for transients from Riverside or elsewhere who seek social services that are not available in their areas.
Council members called for a public awareness program that would discourage residents from giving money to panhandlers.
At the recent hearing, council members cited the need for compassion as they develop additional strategies and seek the involvement of store owners and other businesses. No audience members spoke on the issue.
The panhandling and loitering ordinance – which will enable police to cite offenders – was described by city officials as “another tool for our toolbox.”
The ordinance covers panhandling on or near road medians, parking lots, bus stops, gas stations, banks and automated teller machines and businesses and their driveways.
The ordinance was patterned after similar measures enacted by the cities of Riverside, Jurupa Valley and Paso Robles. Steps were taken to protect the right to free speech, city officials said in their report to the council.
A companion action by the Temecula council focused on a resolution drafted by the Regional Homeless Alliance, which had its first meeting in December 2015. That effort calls for an “innovative, comprehensive strategy for solving homelessness” in Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee, Lake Elsinore and Wildomar.
The coalition’s five goals include monthly discussions on the issues, creating a care network and identifying funding sources for regional services.
Lake Elsinore leads those five cities in the number of unsheltered homeless residents with 53, according to a count conducted Jan. 26. Temecula was next with 37, followed by Menifee with 20 and Wildomar with 13. No unsheltered residents were spotted in Murrieta during that one-day count.
Those tallies showed slight change over 2015. A 2009 spot check of homeless in the Temecula area netted about eight people who were living in vehicles, tents or other temporary structures, many of them located along Murrieta or Temecula creeks.
In 2005, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development began requiring such homeless “census” reports from counties that seek funding.
In 2015, Riverside County and the city of Riverside split $9.3 million from the federal government’s housing support program.
The city of Riverside has consistently led the county in unsheltered homeless residents. Several programs are being considered there. An Oct. 11 workshop on the issue brought together government officials, residents, business owners and social services providers.
The 2016 count totaled 258 unsheltered residents in the city of Riverside. The city of Jurupa Valley was the second highest in the county with 113. Hemet was third with 107.
The countywide tally showed a 15 percent decline in unsheltered homeless people compared to last year with a total count of 1,351, according to a 62-page report released in May. A large share of those counted were men from 50 to 61 years old. Many of them identified themselves as chronically homeless, dependent on alcohol or drugs or recently released from incarceration.