Homeless infractions cleared in exchange for shelter stays

Posted at 7:53 PM, Jan 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-05 20:53:41-05

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Homeless people facing a ticket or arrest by San Diego police could have the infractions cleared if they agree to stay for 30 days in one of the city’s shelters, according to a newspaper report Sunday.

The program could help stabilize lives and get people connected with services, while also allowing officers to enforce laws on the street, San Diego police Capt. Scott Wahl told the Union-Tribune.

The San Diego Police Department launched a neighborhood policing division in 2019 that includes outreach teams and officers who enforce quality-of-life laws that often involve homeless people.

Last summer, police began offering shelter beds in lieu of citations to homeless people who had been contacted for encroachment, illegal lodging, littering or other minor infractions. But while about 300 people took the offer, many of them left the shelter within a day or two, Wahl said.

The revised approach still offers shelter beds in lieu of citations, but now if somebody leaves the shelter before 30 days, the infractions will be enforced, the newspaper said.

“We’re all trying to do our part in ending homelessness, and we want to do it in a way that’s compassionate, but also has accountability,” he said.

The incentive also gives homeless people a month to learn about programs that could help them find housing and overcome issues related to their homelessness, he said.

People who take the deal are free to come and go during the day, but they have to be in the shelter at night.

Under the program, 50 of the 128 beds at a new downtown shelter run by the Alpha Project are reserved for homeless people brought in by police.

Some advocates for people experiencing homelessness have expressed concerns about the incentive program, noting that reserving shelter beds for people brought in by police reduces the number available for others who want beds. Homeless advocate Michael McConnell said he worries people who walk away from the shelter before the 30 days are over could find that prosecutors use that information against them in court.

Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy told the newspaper that the 50 beds are filled most nights, and the incentive program has shown some success after working out a few early kinks. One homeless person has found housing after being brought in by officers in the program, he said.