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KATHY ESFAHANI, San Clemente Affordable Housing Coalition chair; KEN DOSS, Tapestry Unitarian Universalist Congregation minister; RONA HENRY, Welcoming Neighbors Home Initiative chair

Last week, the San Clemente City Council adopted an ordinance that will make life even harsher for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. The new ordinance codifies the city’s rules for seizing personal property “stored” in “public places,” and it also permits officials to cite those who use shopping carts to hold their belongings.

Under the ordinance, a city worker is allowed to remove, without prior notice, “unattended” personal property obviously belonging to a homeless person, if that property “is blocking access” to places like a sidewalk or any city property within 10 feet of a driveway, service area or loading dock, or within 5 feet of a parking space (Sections 1280.020, 1218.040).

That seizure will cause undeniable hardship to unhoused people. Sure, City Council says these items can be retrieved from city storage, but that retrieval process will not be easy for people living on the street, lacking transportation, often burdened by a disability or old age (or both).

Why does San Clemente waste so much time and effort on punitive measures (which nearly always result in expensive lawsuits the city loses), rather than seek solutions to our homelessness crisis? Where is the political will to create the affordable housing, including permanent supportive housing, we need to solve homelessness? 

While we wait (impatiently) for that affordable housing to be built, San Clemente must start using its energy and resources to improve the lives of those who sleep on our streets. We are seeking solutions, not sanctions, for people without homes.

Here are some things the city can provide now for its unhoused residents: a “safe parking” area for those lucky enough to have a car to sleep in; long-term motel stays; a safe place to camp—with shade, toilets and showers; a place to store personal belongings; a place to meet with service providers for health care, legal advice, etc.; somewhere to wash clothes, charge phones, receive mail and access free Wi-Fi.

All San Clemente residents deserve to live in dignity with their basic human needs met.

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