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Pasadena bans homeless people from camping, storing things on sidewalks and parks

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The city wants to crack down on residents setting up camp on the streets

Pasadena on Monday joined a growing list of Southern California cities that have passed strict laws meant to prevent homeless residents from panhandling and storing their belongings on public property.

The city’s new ordinance makes it illegal “to camp, erect, maintain, any tent, lodge, structure, temporary or makeshift shelter, or unattended installation or display” on public sidewalks or in parks. It also allows authorities to confiscate property left on the sidewalk. Owners will then have 30 days to claim their belongings before they can be destroyed or permanently seized.

Prohibiting the homeless from making shelters and keeping their belongings with them may seem a bit draconian, but Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek says it’s necessary to address the region’s growing homelessness problem. He claims that “[t]he attempt here is to have a targeted solution for some specific problems, not to criminalize homeless people or to be heartless about our treatment of them,” according to the Pasadena Star-News.

As KPCC notes, those “specific problems” seem to include negative interactions with the homeless experienced by residents and councilmembers described as the council discussed the measure.

Indeed, as rates of homelessness have spiked throughout Los Angeles County, so have community concerns about crime and safety. Los Angeles, and now Pasadena, have responded by toughening laws regulating homeless behavior, but critics say many of these ordinances unfairly persecute individuals simply on the basis that they are homeless.

Indeed, Will Watts, directing attorney at Public Counsel’s Homelessness Prevention Law Project, submitted a letter to the council arguing that the property confiscation measures were a violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, and that the 30-day period for individuals to claim their belongings was both unfairly brief and inconsistent with similar measures in Los Angeles and Pomona, where 90 days are given to claim property.

Watts also noted that another part of the ordinance, which forbids aggressive panhandling, is too vague and could infringe on residents’ First Amendment rights.

Griffin Hatlestad, rapid rehousing manager at nonprofit homeless outreach group Door of Hope, also expressed concern with the new restrictions. He argued that the ordinance “would only displace people who are homeless and scatter them across the city,” making it harder for outreach workers to find them and connect them with services.

According to the Star-News, city officials were quick to point out that the ordinance is only one part of their homelessness strategy, which also includes the construction of more affordable housing. Those efforts will likely be aided, at least indirectly, by a $1.2 billion bond approved by Los Angeles city voters last week that will provide 10,000 new units of permanent supportive housing across the city.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the $1.2 billion housing bond was approved by Los Angeles County, rather than city, voters.