The Temecula City Council on Tuesday night, Oct. 24, made moves to further tighten restrictions against solicitation and homeless encampments with the introduction of an ordinance and the adoption of an administrative procedure.
The proposed ordinance adds public restrooms to places where people are disallowed from soliciting. The list already includes ATMs and banks, parking lots, public transportation, gas stations, driveways, medians and restaurants.
It also prohibits certain activities on public property such as obstructing passage on sidewalks and prohibits people from storing personal property on public property.
The administrative procedure guides how city staff can utilize the ordinance in the clean-up of homeless encampments and items left behind.
City staff are expected to develop an outreach procedure and notify people in encampments they need to vacate. If there’s an immediate threat to public health or safety, the city can expedite the process for cleaning the encampment up.
Items will be stored at former food pantry location on Pujol Street for up to 90 days. Notifications will be posted in the area where the items were picked up so that people who are looking for them know where to go.
Senior Management Analyst Erica Russo and Homeless Outreach Liason Robin Gilliland held a presentation that both explained the ordinance and the reasoning behind it. The presentation also updated the council on what city staff have done so far to work with homeless in the area.
Russo showed pictures from encampments west of Old Town Temecula that have since been cleaned up. Three 40-cubic yard dumpsters-worth of debris were collected from those areas.
“The reality is a lot of the times when we talk about encampments, this is what we’re talking about,” Russo said, referring to the pictures. “We’re talking about largely abandoned debris, much of which poses significant threats to public health in the way of disease vectors, pollution, chemical contaminants and physical or fire or flood hazards.”
Of particular concern, Russo said, was the recent hepatitis outbreak in San Diego and Los Angeles counties. She said the concerns over the spread of disease made it important to address the encampments.
The council voted 4-0, with councilmember James “Stew” Stewart absent, to introduce the ordinance. It will not take effect unless it’s formally approved during another meeting.
During the meeting Mayor Maryann Edwards talked about a policy the city had adopted called Responsible Compassion.
The three-pronged approach includes providing services, educating Temecula residents and enforcing laws, Edwards said.
She said that people who were homeless could receive services aimed at helping them to become self-sufficient. Those services are provided by Community Mission of Hope, the non-profit arm of Rancho Community Church.
Edwards said the education part of responsible compassion was about encouraging members of the community not to give homeless people money or food. She said people often give those items thinking they are helping.
“We know now that is absolutely the opposite of what is true,” she said. “When you hand food to a homeless person, or money, most of the time — and we know through documentation and interaction — that those two items turn into drugs.”
Lastly, Edwards said, responsible compassion includes making sure the homeless are not violating laws by using drugs, urinating in public, being drunk in public or committing other violations.
“For those individuals who chose to remain homeless or who chose to live outdoors, it is not against the law to do so,” she said. “But they must obey the same laws and rules that all Temecula residents obey.”
Edwards said there are four Riverside County sheriff’s deputies who are part of the Homeless Outreach Team for the city. She said the duty of those deputies is largely to establish relationships with the homeless and in hopes of getting them connected with services, but said those deputies are also prepared to enforce laws.