The homeless situation in our area is tricky.

We become aware of people who have no indoors place to live – people camping in the bottoms, families living in vans, staying wherever they can. Many are locals; some are transients. 

We want to do something to help. After a while, sympathy fatigue sets in. We’re tired of trying to solve their problems ... even though solving their problems is the only realistic way of ever getting close to solving the larger problem.

Then the problem persists and many of us face ramifications – campers on our properties or nearby, traveling through our neighborhoods, locating in public places and having to relieve themselves one place or another, have a place for their possessions ... even if we’re feeling fatigue for the problem, it’s not going away.

In light of all of that, we think the recent urgent ordinance passed by Yuba County supervisors is a fair reaction to the situation (though they can’t stop working on solving the problem).

The new rule, which went into effect last week, clarifies where camping and storage of personal property is prohibited in the unincorporated parts of the county. 

Officials said after the vote that “the ordinance provides a tool for enforcement – particularly in the area’s river bottoms, where some encampments pose risks to levee safety and large amounts of debris threaten to pollute waterways during high water events.”

“We have to take pride in our community,” said Supervisor Andy Vasquez. “This ordinance is not for any particular resident, it’s for the entire population within the county who have spent their money and worked hard to make the county a better place to live.”

Code Enforcement manager Jeremy Strang said the ordinance also provides his department and deputies with some authority to enforce the rules.

A homeless man quoted in our story about the ordinance, wondered about the legality – the courts have found that governments can’t punish someone for not having a place to live, he reminded us. And he’s right: the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that homeless individuals cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of an adequate alternative.

The county has worked in recent years to provide alternatives – not just to provide some respite, but to actually help homeless people find help, when needed, and counseling that can get them into permanent dwellings.

It seems that the county deserves some credit for its work. This ordinance lays out prohibitions on camping in certain areas – including on airport ground and levees – limits times and places for camping, allows for recovery of property and time to move. It doesn’t ban camping. We don’t doubt that the ordinance, in some manner, will also be used to clean up the area ... but it raises legitimate public safety issues. 

Sutter County has a draft ordinance about to go on the table, too.

Local governments need to do all they can to help in solving the homeless crisis – and that means housing people, not just moving them along. This ordinance, however, seems a legitimate a piece of the puzzle.

Our View editorials represent the opinion of the Appeal–Democrat and its editorial board and are edited by the publisher and/or editor. Members of the editorial board include: Publisher Glenn Stifflemire and Editor Steve Miller.

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