By Colin Meinrath
In the view of its advocates, Measure O is a “solution” to the “homeless problem.” However, it is really just a proposal to intensify the same failed policies already in place, while also letting businesses drain public funding.
It is similar in style to laws that allowed people to sue abortion providers in states like Texas, effectively doing a legal end-run around Roe v. Wade, before SCOTUS overturned it. Except in this case, it would be the City of Sacramento on the hook to get sued for failing to move unhoused individuals away from public spaces.
Measure O proposes a system in which unhoused people will be collected from public space by the city and deposited elsewhere, as if they were trash instead of a human being. The collection aspect would take the form of “sweeps,” which happen already.
What is a Sweep?
A sweep is when police, sometimes other public employees, and sometimes even private contractors disperse and destroy an encampment, often throwing away people’s belongings. Items destroyed in these attacks often include survival gear like tents and sleeping bags, prescription medications, and even personal memorabilia such as a relative’s ashes or pictures.
Will this only impact the homeless?
No, it will also drain Sacramento’s city budget an unknown amount by allowing businesses to sue the city for failing to come collect unhoused people fast enough. Such legalized looting should be of grave concern to anyone who wants the City of Sacramento to be able to afford to operate properly. So, in addition to being a non-solution, Measure O would move solutions to this and other issues further out of reach through perpetual raids on the public purse.
When asked at a public forum how much money Measure O would cost the city, the author admitted he had no idea. This was an honest answer, at least.
But is such a scheme even legal?
Well, probably not. Measure O pretty clearly violates the Martin v. Boise decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The City of Boise appealed the case to the Supreme Court, but SCOTUS chose not to hear the appeal in late 2019, affirming the Boise decision as case law.
The decision says, among other things, that unhoused individuals may not be moved by sweeps if municipalities don’t have somewhere for them to go. Naturally, municipalities have done the bare minimum, if that, to satisfy this requirement ever since. Measure O, however, seems to be doing far less than the minimum. It puts forward the legally required alternative to the City Manager, essentially saying “let him figure out how to create and maintain shelter beds for thousands of people within 90 days,” and then makes it a crime to refuse this unspecified “shelter.”
If you read this and are thinking, “Woah, hold on, this is a law that would require that dispossessed people be rounded up and put in government-run camps!?” Then you are correct. This is all outlined in Section 2 of the measure.
Are people really shelter/service resistant?
In a word, no. Services for unhoused individuals and families exist on a spectrum between good but under-funded services with long waitlists on one end, to “services” that demean unhoused people and view them as inherently delinquent, untrustworthy people on the other. The latter type tends to get more funding, despite the lack of any significant positive outcomes.
So when people are labeled “service resistant,” what that really means is that they are resistant to being mistreated by bad “services” and “shelters.” Such “shelters” often demand people toss “drugs” that are actually prescription meds, don’t allow pet dogs, treat people with scorn, and sometimes even throw people out without so much as telling them which rule they broke.
Everyone should be able to understand that the criminalization of poverty is worse than a policy failure; it is a crime against compassion. Constitutionally, it’s cruel and unusual punishment. That is the essence of Measure O: a policy nightmare on top of an ethical calamity.
To get involved with the effort to stop Measure O, visit the official No on O campaign website and sign up to get a lawn sign and/or volunteer.