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Group Protests Santa Ana's Ticketing of the Homeless

September 21, 1993|ALICIA DI RADO and JON NALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTA ANA — Saying that city officials should help, not harass, the homeless, about 50 members of Orange County Housing NOW! pleaded with the City Council Monday to stop ticketing homeless people.

The group has made repeated trips to council meetings and held vigils outside the council chambers since late last year, but Monday night marked the first such protest in several months.

Protest leaders said the resurgence in the coalition's campaign came at the end of failed bargaining sessions with the city to provide more affordable housing and rescind the city's law against camping on public property.

Sister Kathy Stein, a spokeswoman for the group, said the city should seek humane ways to aid the homeless, starting with immediately stopping the ticketing of people sleeping under blankets.

"People need help, and Santa Ana isn't helping. No one is asking for a return to 'tent city,' " she said, referring to the makeshift village of homeless people at the Civic Center that city officials successfully fought to disband.

Lee Podolak, a spokeswoman for the Homeless Issues Task Force, told the council that the city should spend less on lawsuits to prosecute the homeless and more on housing.

"It's a waste of time and money," Podolak said. Police have "better things to do than harass the homeless."

City Councilman Robert L. Richardson countered that the city already has one quarter of the county's shelter beds.

"To engage in open season and surrender to the idea that the Civic Center should be a campground is something I will not support," Richardson said.

"No other city in this county has made the ongoing level of commitment that our city has," he added, citing the upcoming creation of a single-room occupancy hotel in the city's YMCA building and other projects.

The city, however, saw its federal emergency shelter grants slashed 30% this year. Money for shelters decreased from $94,000 to $66,000.

In June, a state appellate court issued an injunction that prohibited city officials from enforcing Santa Ana's anti-camping law until the appeals court considers in November if it is constitutional. The three-judge panel also temporarily halted the trial of 25 homeless defendants who were prosecuted under that law.

The city then started ticketing people under a state law that prohibits lodging in public or private places without permission.

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