By Aaron Kesel
The cities of San Francisco and Seattle are testing a new way to report homeless encampments or “tent cities” via dialing 311 or using an app. Meanwhile, LA lawmakers are pushing to ban homeless people from parks, schools, and other designated areas, LA Times reported.
Snitch On Homeless People, See Someone Say Something:
Residents of Seattle can now report homeless encampments quickly and remotely, providing citizens the ability to send a report directly to a corresponding city department with the “Find It, Fix It” app, Smart Cities Dive reported.
The app enables citizens the ability to “alert the city to public problems with a message including a location and description. Users submit issues by category, such as illegal dumping, potholes, dead animals, and “other inquiries,” allowing residents to report encampments,” a city spokeswoman Cyndi Wilder told Smart Cities Dive in an email interview.
There’s one problem conflating homelessness into those issues as the author writes for Smart Cities Dive, “people aren’t potholes.”
Activist Post has previously reported that Nevada app developers, BitFocus Inc, were working with government to give homeless people a tap on the shoulder of Big Brother, tracking their every move in San Francisco using the ONE System, a scary and worrying prospect.
“The idea is simple: Collect and sort information associated with the homeless to more effectively assess risk factors, determine those most in need, and get those people into available shelters and transitional housing. But the reality is more complicated. Five months after its introduction, ONE System has helped get only 70 people off the streets as it contends with the same challenges that have plagued past efforts—as well as new ones, including persuading the city’s most at-risk population to sign on to a program with echoes of Big Brother,” writes Bloomberg.
According to Bloomberg, ONE System collects data from 15 city and state agencies. Then homeless persons are asked 17 questions that can help evaluate their individual situation, including their time spent on the street, health, and overall vulnerability.
This information combined with a record of the places in the city that a person frequents is used to create a database that acts as a digital profile for caseworkers. The caseworkers helping homeless people get back on their feet would then use this data to aid them in assisting the homeless community to obtain help with their health and housing needs.
Caseworkers then must persuade the homeless to join a monitoring system. Participants in ONE System must sign medical records privacy protection forms and other legal forms. Further, to get into a permanent housing program, app users need to pass a background check, which can take 45 days and requires an identification card, a hardship since most homeless people don’t have a phone or an ID card.
As Activist Post previously pointed out:
Meanwhile, if you try to feed the homeless as a citizen you face fines and even jail time, as Activist Post has reported consistently on the increasingly worrying trend.
App developers trying to offer the homeless a way to find free food worldwide, Chef90, were sued for their efforts to help homeless people. Chef90 allowed anyone to coordinate food drops and locations and was designed to allow small amounts of food, clothing, or blankets to be distributed to those in need.
Example: Post Item = I have 4 apples View Items = Users with Chef-90 pick up the 4 apples and Distributes them to children in need on their way to work. Chef-90 uses GPS to find items close to users to easy distribute food or other items.
Everyone can do a small part to help someone in need.
“This app gives users the tools to achieve that goal,” the app description read according to APKPure (who keeps a downloadable copy of all apps on the Google Play Store.)
The app Chef90 was available on both Google Play and Apple Stores named after the famous chef, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, who sought to go above and beyond to feed the homeless. For his good deeds, Abbott found himself facing up to two months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines after laws that restrict public feeding of the homeless went into effect in Fort Lauderdale in 2014, Reuters reported.
However, like Abbott, developers of Chef90 quickly found themselves in legal trouble with cease and desist orders, and sued. The developers were then forced to take down the app from the Apple App Store and Google Play store, according to a developer who worked on the app and wishes to remain anonymous.
Another problem is the laws being pushed in cities like Los Angeles that punish homelessness by barring the homeless from sleeping on public spaces. Los Angeles City Council’s homelessness and poverty committee has noticed the trend of criminalizing homelessness, and as result are working to change the law in order to align L.A.’s municipal code with a 2018 federal court ruling that limits how cities can enforce anti-camping and anti-loitering laws. In that case, Martin V. Boise, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Boise law that outlawed sleeping in any public space.
But the proposed changes made by the Los Angeles City Council’s homelessness and poverty committee aren’t designed to help those who need it and include outrageous bans on sitting, sleeping or lying in a number of designated public places. Which critics like Peggy Lee Kennedy, an advocate for the homeless from Venice argue are “inhumane,” as LAist reported.
A federal court also ruled in the Boise case that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property.” The court also opined that “even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible.”
In her opinion on that case, the Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote:
As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.
A list of proposed changes in LA are below:
- No sleeping within 10 feet of a driveway or building entrance.
- Within 500 feet of a park, school or daycare center.
- Within 500 feet of a homeless shelter or homeless housing that’s opened since January 2018.
- In any way that violates free passage of someone in a wheelchair pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- On bike paths.
- In or upon any tunnel, bridge or pedestrian subway that is on a city-designated school route.
- On public land with posted “no trespassing” signs and closing times.
- On “crowded public sidewalk areas” like those where street vending is outlawed or near large venues.
The reader should know that the previous law prohibited homeless from sitting or sleeping on any sidewalks at all. This new law is supposed to be a means to bridge the gap, but appears to actually designate ordinances to make legalese more clear for the public that homelessness will be punished.
L.A. also has confusing restrictions on where people can sleep in their vehicles in residential areas near parks and schools, which the same committee recently voted to extend.
Reading through these proposed changes and knowing about the ban on sleeping in vehicles, one might think: “where the hell are homeless people supposed to rest?”
Allowing states to enforce a ban on helping the homeless with food drives and criminalizing being poor, without a place to stay, is a terrifying future to foresee. No one should be prevented from receiving help or for just trying to survive in nature. The other issue is just as horrifying — who has control of the data from a government-run app, as opposed to a citizen-run app? If authorities discover drug use or violent crime through the tracking system, could it become a digital policing tool?
San Francisco alone has seen homelessness surge 17% from 2017 to 2019 according to San Francisco government data, while just the city of Los Angeles has more than 27,000 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
As a result of this push to criminalize homelessness we may start seeing anti-homeless signs like “don’t feed the homeless, or no sleeping here to 500 feet.” While that sounds absolutely ridiculous and you might find yourself chuckling at the suggestion of the signs, it seriously may become our new reality just like the “homeless spikes” seen spreading throughout the U.S.
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