PRESS RELEASE: Camping Citations Up
Homeless People Up in Arms
From LS Wilson and Elisa Dela-Piano,
Coalition on Homelessness
[San Francisco] On Tuesday, March 22, at 11 a.m., homeless people,
with the support of the Coalition on Homelessness, gathered on the Polk
Street-side steps of City Hall to ask the Mayor about some numbers. Their
question: "If there are fewer homeless people in San Francisco and the City is
focusing its limited resources on 'Housing First,' why has the number of
citations issued for camping in the city's parks nearly tripled over the past
In sharp contrast to numerous recent attempts by the City at accurately
quantifying the state of homelessness in San Francisco, these figures are
undisputed. Data obtained by the Coalition on Homelessness regarding the City's
prosecution of so-called "Quality of Life" infractions in San Francisco
Municipal Court indicate that in 2003 (pre-Newsom), 436 tickets were handed out
for "camping" in the City's parks; in 2004, that number rose sharply to 1,114.
And the most recent figures available show this trend continuing: the January
2003 monthly ticket total was just 14, while under the current administration,
January 2005 saw 63 would-be campers cited — an average of more than two per
According to LS Wilson of the Coalition's Civil Rights Group, "In a sense,
it's just business as usual to selectively enforce so-called 'Quality of Life'
laws against poor and homeless people. By making everything homeless people do
to survive on the streets illegal, it only makes it harder for them to exit
Camping citations are particularly difficult for homeless people to expunge
from their records, since clearing them involves paying a fine larger than most
can afford, or negotiating the court system successfully without the benefit of
a public defender or other court-appointed assistance. As a result, tickets turn
into warrants and warrants to jail time, or free labor for the city through
community service — "a matter of grave concern," says Nicole Solis of the Public
Public Defender Jeff Adachi, goes further. What he'd like to see is the
creation of a "Clean Slate" program for homeless people whose "Quality of Life"
citations have become warrants. Adachi explains, "Ideally, ticketing is viewed
as intervention — an impersonal push toward services; in reality, tickets are a
deterrent. But if you could offer homeless people with citations a single point
of entry to get those records expunged, you might have a chance of getting them
back on track."
Perhaps when the City finally stops spending money and manpower on
prosecuting "Quality of Life" offenses, it could free up these resources to help
undo the damage they've created.