Calif. lawmakers target homeless camps along riverbeds

As California cities and counties struggle to conform to a highly-controversial appellate court decision that has handcuffed their ability to remove homeless populations from the streets, state lawmakers are targeting a different scourge tied to the state’s homelessness crisis: riverbed encampments.

Per the Associated Press:

Lawmakers in California want to make it easier to remove homeless people along rivers and other open spaces after the body of a 20-year-old woman was found close to some tents at a popular park near the state’s capital city earlier this year.

Emma Roark vanished after taking a walk at about noon on Jan. 27 along the American River Parkway, a 32-mile paved pedestrian trail that runs along the river and connects various parks between Sacramento and Folsom. Millions of people use the parkway each year. But like most vast public spaces, it’s become a popular spot for homeless people to camp.

Local governments already have the power to remove these camps. But state Assemblymember Kevin McCarty said many are afraid to do it after a federal appeals court ruled in 2018 that cities can’t enforce anti-camping laws if they don’t have enough available beds at homeless shelters to house everyone. That’s become a problem in California, where recent estimates suggest about 160,000 people are homeless, the most of any state.

Communities in the San Joaquin Valley along with the city of Los Angeles have taken a targeted approach to anti-camping rules, barring homeless from pitching tents and living within certain sectors of their municipalities.

The local proposals aim to conform to the Martin v. Boise ruling that has eliminated local government’s ability to enact sweeping anti-camping bans unless a jurisdiction has adequate bed space to house the homeless.

Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.