In The Midst Of A City-Wide Shelter Crisis Redding Must Enforce Its Illegal Camping Ordinance Very Carefully. 

In 2021, the City of Redding declared a shelter crisis, saying the lack of local emergency housing created a threat to the safety of unhoused people. Recent efforts to keep Nur Pon Open Space clear of encampments are complicated by the risk of violating a 2018 federal court decision known as Martin v. Boise which prohibits citations for illegal camping unless there is adequate access to emergency shelter.
Incident reports under the descriptor “quality of life,” including illegal camping, are shown on the city’s crime map.

Over the last two weeks, the Redding Police Department (RPD) has moved numerous unhoused community members from encampments inside Redding’s Nur Pon Open Space and out into the surrounding community. 

The recreational area, located along the Sacramento River off Cypress Avenue in Redding, was formerly known as Henderson Open Space. Redding has invested over $5 million of grant funds into improvements to the riverfront area over the last ten years. Dignity Health plans to build a new health care facility in the area directly adjacent to the public space.

A recent change to Nur Pon’s operational hours facilitated the removal of encampments from the site by making overnight stays against city law. But without available and accessible emergency shelter space, the city could face legal hurdles in their attempts to keep Nur Pon clear of unhoused residents in order to make more space for fly fishers and others who also benefit from proximity to the Sacramento waterway. 

While the city may legally move the unhoused from the recreational space at night, they can’t keep them from camping elsewhere on public land unless there are emergency shelter beds available. Without access to those beds, according to the widely known 2018 federal court decision Martin v. Boise, the government “can’t criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

The city acknowledged a lack of beds in June 2021 by declaring a “shelter crisis” under California state law to allow for development of transitional micro shelter housing. According to that document, the lack of access to shelter in Redding “creates a threat to the safety of unhoused community members.”

Shelter Availability is Complicated by Kinds of Housing and Rules for Accessing It

Shasta County has 1,353 beds for the unsheltered, according to Redding’s Assistant City Manager Steve Bade. That number should be more than sufficient, based on Shasta County’s Point in Time (PIT) count which indicates that of the 798 homeless people counted by the survey only 423 were living without shelter.

But, as Bade acknowledged, not all shelter options will work for all individuals. The numbers he cited appear to encompass all housing options along what is known as the continuum of care, including emergency beds, transitional housing, and short-term housing. Neither Bade nor City Manager Barry Tippin responded to follow-up questions about how many of those beds are emergency beds, available to meet the immediate shelter needs of those who have been camping at Nur Pon or elsewhere. 

With many different local agencies involved in care for the unsheltered, emergency housing availability can be hard to determine, even for city staff. Bade said last week that community members at Nur Pon have been offered access to emergency housing through Hill Country Community Clinic and other agencies. But Jo Campbell, CEO of Hill Country, said Friday her organization is not able to provide access to emergency housing and never has.

“It’s important that the community knows we don’t have a place to put people who need immediate housing,” Campbell said, “What we have is a small amount of transitional housing for the medically fragile and transitional aged youth.”

Campbell said it’s important that Hill Country come to the table as an advocate for the unhoused and a contributor among other community service providers, but she worries that Hill Country has gotten the reputation for having housing solutions that can help people in crisis.

“It’s clear that housing the unsheltered is complex and will require a variety of solutions to meet housing needs across a continuum that includes emergency, transitional, and permanent housing,” Campbell said. “But,” she continued, “until there is enough low-barrier shelter, the city will continue to move people from place to place.”

Available Emergency Beds Not Accessible To All

Amy Koslosky, the Supervising Community Education Specialist for Shasta County’s Health and Human Services Agency, said this week that the only emergency beds available in the county are those at the Good News Rescue Mission, which can house up to 500 individuals, a number insufficient to house the local unsheltered community. 

Adding to the complexity of emergency bed availability is Martin v. Boise’s requirement that shelter beds be accessible to everyone who needs them. That’s not the case at the Rescue Mission, where rules include a 30-day-in-30 day out policy, limiting individuals’ options for sheltering there, Koslosky said. Those rules create accessibility concerns and complicate the city’s attempts to enforce anti-camping ordinances by offering the Rescue Mission as shelter.

Sarah Fielding, Managing Attorney for Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), which provides free legal services across 23 counties in California, clarified for Shasta Scout last week that under Martin v. Boise, “even if an agency holds itself out as an emergency shelter, it is not considered an available shelter if it has overly restrictive rules or religious requirements.”

Tippin made note of concerns about the city’s lack of accessible emergency shelter beds during a July meeting of Redding’s City Council, referencing recent legal action against the city of Chico in similar circumstances. That case began in April of 2021, when the Chico branch of LSNC filed both a suit and a temporary restraining order against the city, citing the city’s enforcement of illegal camping ordinances without sufficient access to shelter. In January 2022, Chico reached a settlement in that case that included providing low-barrier shelter for the city’s unhoused.

Police and other City Staff are Aware of Lack of Accessible Emergency Shelter

On August 16, one day after the Nur Pon displacement began, Redding Police Department (RPD) staff wrote on Facebook: “Individuals in the camps have been offered assistance and housing multiple times. We will continue to provide assistance to those wanting it.”

RPD’s Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT), which is partly funded by a housing grant, has been on site at Nur Pon over the last several weeks offering resources, including housing. But without available accessible shelter for all, many individuals remain without immediate housing options.

That’s why, Tippin told Shasta Scout last week, the city is not issuing citations for illegal camping except in rare instances. “Pursuant to the Boise decision,” Tippin wrote in an email, “RPD will only issue a citation if other options are ineffective and only if there is available shelter space for that individual.” As of August 24, Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller said, the city had issued only two citations for illegal camping on public land since beginning to clear the Nur Pon area.

Asked how RPD can determine who can legally be cited for camping, Schueller said, police use a database in the field to determine whether or not unhoused community members are able to access shelter at the Good News Rescue Mission and how many beds are currently available there. That database has known information, including sex offender registry status, history of violence, and previous failure to follow shelter rules, that would make individuals ineligible for Mission housing.

It’s unlikely to provide other information that would indicate why some people might be reluctant to take shelter at the Mission, including hesitations based on their inability to bring possessions or pets inside with them, and concerns about safety. 

Lack of Information About Emergency Shelter Options, and the Law, Impact the Unhoused

RPD has generated 76 RPD incident reports under the title “illegal camper” since August 15th. While Schueller said those reports include citations, they may also be generated by officer contacts with the unhoused or even by calls for service. But the large number of reports relative to the number of citations raises questions about whether the police are repeatedly contacting the unhoused regarding illegal camping, even if they are not citing them. Schueller did not respond to a question about whether police policies allow officers to contact the unhoused to tell them camping is illegal without checking if they can access shelter.

Last Wednesday, a Shasta Scout reporter witnessed an RPD officer telling an unsheltered community member just outside Nur Pon that it was  illegal to camp within the city limits. The officer suggested that the individual call the Neighborhood Policing Unit if they didn’t know where to go. He did not respond to Shasta Scout’s questions about whether there were currently beds open at the Mission, how he knew available beds were accessible for that particular individual, or why he did not provide resources for how to access emergency shelter.

The incident illustrates that while individuals may legally camp within the city if they are ineligible for a stay at the Mission, it’s unlikely that many of those living without shelter are aware of the technicalities of the law, making them susceptible to possible manipulation via broad statements by police. Fielding, the lawyer with Northern California Legal Services, said she was unable to provide comment on the legality of these particular actions. 

Schueller said by email Monday that RPD was working on printing a resource card for patrol officers to hand out to those without shelter to ensure they’re aware of their options.

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