By City Council member Kathy Ward
I am going to talk about homelessness and also property crime. This subject of homelessness is sensitive because being homeless is not a crime, yet the very sight of someone who is homeless makes people upset. I am not faulting anyone for their thoughts on this issue. Some San Clemente residents have had bad experiences with transient visitors and have been greatly affected by incidents that have occurred.
Homelessness is a problem all around the world. So is drug addiction. The war on drugs has come to our neighborhoods. Crime has also come. There are several reasons why crime, mostly property crime, has increased.
The first reason is AB 109, which was a bill that realigned the prison system so that low-level felons were transferred from state prison to local county jails.
The next is Proposition 47, approved by California voters in 2014. This proposition downgraded a variety of “non-serious, non-violent crimes” that had previously been considered felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, forgery, fraud and more. As long as the total value of stolen property is under $950, there is barely any enforcement to render.
Do you wonder why packages are being stolen off of your porch? It is because there are no real consequences.
Proposition 47 didn’t stop with reclassifying theft. It also reclassified personal use of drugs to a misdemeanor. Someone can use heroin in front of you and it isn’t a felony.
If these two modifications to offenses were not enough, the effects of Proposition 57 have not yet hit. Proposition 57 passed in November 2016. It states that felons in jail could be released early if they had served full time on their primary offense only. That means that felons in jail under California’s three-strike law are now eligible for early release.
The realignment of our prison system and reducing felonies to misdemeanors and then reducing how time is counted for those felonies have all contributed to more felons, even repeat felons, on the street.
What are people doing who are tired of being the victims of theft? They are taking action to protect themselves. They join groups like Next Door to let their neighbors know of a suspicious person. They form neighborhood watches for their block and actively participate. Empowering yourselves and securing your household are your protections against theft.
Chief of San Clemente Police Services Lt. Mike Peters has stated our residents can help him lower theft crime by over 50 percent if they start locking their car doors and houses. This is the biggest thing you can do to reduce theft in San Clemente and help our sheriff’s department.
Another way to greatly help our sheriff is to call them directly to report a crime. People are taking to Facebook to talk about what they have seen. Please report it directly to the sheriff’s dispatch, which can be reached at 949.770.6011, or call 911 in an emergency.
Our sheriff’s department is genuinely trying to keep our streets safe and cite offenders when they can. They have not changed their police procedures; what has changed are the laws.
Back on the subject of homelessness. We have found that homeless individuals from the Santa Ana riverbed in Anaheim were transferred to motels in San Clemente. The city was not notified this would be happening nor notified once it had happened. These people are only supposed to be in these motels temporarily to allow the county time to process them and get them help and to a more sustainable situation. The county is responsible for them and have arranged for their rooms. These people have agreed to go through the county for services unlike others from the riverbed who moved on.
We all want to have compassion, but I think sometimes there is misplaced compassion. All homeless people are offered services. Even if they do not want shelter, they are given a monthly EBT card for food and given a paid phone, so most are able to buy food. When our residents feed them, they are able to use their EBT card to trade for drugs, which perpetuates their addiction. It has been shown that if you want to increase the amount of homeless in your area, start feeding them and providing free stuff.
Feeding them really doesn’t help them find a solution. The police will advise you not to give them money. If food and money are provided, they will not seek help to a more permanent solution because this way of being on the street is working for them. Donations to homeless are best served by donating to Family Assistance Ministries.
Kathy Ward is a San Clemente City Council member who was elected to office in 2014. She served as the city’s mayor in 2017.