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Quality of Life: “I’m Sorry, Ma’am, but You Can’t Be Poor, Here”

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We calls these offenses “status crimes;” conservatives call them “quality of life offenses.” What sorts of crimes can get you sent down to 555-575 Polk for some instant (“compassionate”) justice? Any misdemeanor committed within the catchment zone, which includes most of the Tenderloin, Union Square, and parts of SoMa. Many misdemeanors are crimes that most of us would like to see prosecuted; however, a number are simply survival in many poor people’s lives. In response to Tenderloin Poverty Court supporters’ claims that (despite the Mayor’s initial intentions) the court was not to be a homeless court, the Coalition on Homelessness requested that the following statutes not direct “offenders” to the court. This request was rejected. The following are the sorts of laws which threaten to turn the CJC into a homeless court:

California Penal Code 372 prohibits homeless people from, “obstruct[ing] the free passage of any… public park, square, street, or highway…” In practice, this citation is issued for sleeping on the sidewalk even when a person is not blocking passage.

California Penal Codes 602(m) and 602(o) prohibit trespassing. For homeless people, trespassing frequently includes sleeping against the wall of a closed business establishment at night.

California Vehicle Code 22520.5 prohibits soliciting within 500 feet (about one block) of ramps on and off of James Lick Freeway at the Southeast wall of the catchment zone. While the first violation is an infraction, the second and subsequent are misdemeanors.

San Francisco Police Code 22, 23, 24 prohibits, “obstruct[ing] the free passage of any person or persons on any street, sidewalk, passageway or other public place.” As noted above, “obstruction” is frequently used for sleeping on sidewalks when passage is not being blocked. While the first citation falls under section 22, and is an infraction, second and subsequent citations are misdemeanors. Misdemeanor California Penal Code 647(e) has the same effect.

San Francisco Police Code 120-2 prohibits the begging of alms within twenty feet of an ATM, or of the same person twice. While the legislation allows police officers to issue infraction citations for these cases, San Francisco Police Department General Order 6.08 states that it is departmental policy to issue misdemeanors.

In addition, three different Park Code sections and one Police Code section are “wobblers” that can be cited as either infractions or misdemeanors, at the police officer’s discretion. These laws prohibit sleeping (again), and punish those who sell VHS cassettes, clothing, umbrellas, gewgaws and knick-knacks without a permit they can’t afford.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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