“This strategy runs counter to recommendations of public health experts asking people to shelter in place,” argued Ann Menasche, a senior attorney with Disability Rights California. “The CDC advises that encampments not be cleared during community spread unless and until individual housing units are available. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends a 12-feet by 12-feet space per individual, which are unlikely to be offered at the City’s shelters or “safe lots.”
Contends Menasche, “The City has had a long-standing policy of punishing people who use their vehicles as shelter, even when they lack adequate housing alternatives. Punishments range from arrest and incarceration to expensive ticketing that can lead to loss of the vehicle through towing and impoundment, resulting in unsheltered homelessness.”
Menasche has filed a class-action suit against the City attempting to overturn a new ordinance approved a few months ago making vehicle habitation illegal almost everywhere in the city other than designated “safe lots.”
She recently sent a letter to the Deputy City Attorney demanding emergency action to alleviate disproportionate harm to vehicle inhabitants during the ongoing health crisis.
Said Menasche in her letter, “The City’s policies have placed people who use their vehicles for shelterin an exceptionally perilous position… it is essential that they are allowed to shelter in place in their vehicles and to maintain sufficient physical distance from other vehicles while having access to adequate sanitation, running water and healthy food.”
Added Menasche, “Our clients also need access to other necessities including places to charge medical equipment such as c-pap machines, and access to the internet to allow them to receive up-to-date information about the pandemic, no longer available to them due to closure of public libraries and coffee shops… the City has refused to issue a moratorium on all ticketing under the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance and Oversized Vehicle Ordinance, and to end impoundments of vehicles used for shelter. Instead, the City has made a bad situation even worse by closing the park and beach parking lots, thereby denying access to public restrooms and showers utilized by people sheltering in vehicles, and to the free grey water disposal dumps in Mission Bay which RV owners depend upon for safe grey water disposal.”
“This is outrageous,” concluded Menasche. “Forcing people into mega-shelters at Golden Hall and the Convention Center is the exact opposite of what we need. The City’s reckless policies violate lock-down orders issued by the state and federal government and go against the clear guidance of the CDC. It is time for the City to get it right before more people die.” Added Menasche about what’s required, “We need to have a moratorium on the ticketing of people living in their RVs or other vehicles and the impoundment of those vehicles. We need to open bathrooms in beach parking lots so people sheltered in their vehicles can use them. We also need to reopen the waste disposal dumps for the RVs.”
The City of San Diego could not be reached for comment.