How ‘right to shelter’ proposal will impact California, cities

Posted at 7:26 AM, Jul 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-19 10:26:06-04

Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg proposed mandating a “right to shelter” for California’s growing homeless population, as well as obligating individuals experiencing homelessness to go into an available shelter, KCRA reports.

Steinberg is co-chair of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new homeless task force.

Both proposals are still in their infancy but will likely need to become state law in order for them to be enacted.

The first step — mandating cities, counties and other municipalities to provide shelter.

“Establishing a right to shelter, clearly the state has the power to create such a right,” McGeorge School of Law professor Clark Kelso said. “I’m quite confident municipalities would turn around and say ‘Well this is a state mandate, where’s the money?’ So, there would be a conversation about who has to pay. How do you provide revenues for it? It’s the sort of thing that keep Sacramento busy.”

If enough shelters were built, the second step would legally require individuals experiencing homelessness to go into a shelter as opposed to sleeping in public places.

“Do adults have a constitutional right of access to public thoroughfares, to public streets and sidewalks, to a public bench? In the abstract, the answer in clearly yes,” Kelso said.

“But the reality of homelessness is not my classroom hypothetical. The reality is people who are homeless and sleeping outside at night can be, and oftentimes are, a danger to themselves or others. When you’re a danger to yourself or others, government does have the power to act.”

Despite sleeping in public places, Kelso argues circumstances such as exposed hypodermic needles, human waste, violent or unstable behavior could be legal grounds to place someone into a shelter regardless of consent.

“This is actually not unheard of,” Kelso said. “We already take people who are mentally ill– who are a danger to themselves or to others. We already have processes for taking those people off the street and into essentially protective custody. So, this is not a completely new idea– it is an extension to all homeless people. That is a big step and the Legislature will have to take a look at how to make that constitutional. But I am confident that can be done.”

Steinberg said he will bring these ideas to the state homeless commission next month.