As a candidate for our school board, there’s nothing like going into the office on a Friday morning and getting bombarded with texts, phone calls, and such asking if I saw the Mayor’s post on Facebook about me and what my response was. For those who know me, I really don’t do Facebook. So, after calming the noise down, I finally got to read his comment:
“Disappointed that Rob Jung For Milpitas School Board 2022 is opposed to the proposed city ordinance to prohibit encampment activity around our Milpitas schools — definitely not voting for him”
What was the proposed ordinance? Well, at the Sept 6 city council meeting, the Mayor introduced and the council passed a new ordinance that defines “rights of way” on public sideways, in public areas, and at other locations from 7 am-11 pm. It was introduced as a public safety measure, but it could have a significant impact on the unhoused population as it prohibits encampments in those defined areas. The ordinance then outlines the enforcement mechanisms, which include a warning, fines, and potential jail time. See here for the ordinance itself. The ordinance was passed on a 3-2 vote, with Tran, Montano, and Chua in the affirmative; Phan no; and Dominguez abstaining.
Back to Facebook: My first thought was, So how did he arrive at that conclusion? It became quickly clear to me that he had no idea of why I would be against the ordinance. He seemed to have concluded that I was against the right of way in public places, which I am not. How he arrived at that is something only he can tell you. I have never said that. And linking it to schools is a stretch. But it is irresponsible and whatever ounce of faith I had in him to lead evaporated in seconds. He clearly does not know who I am nor what I would want. But spreading that to others who don’t know me crosses the line (This is why I don’t use Facebook. It’s a great way to start a story, and it doesn’t have to be rooted in the truth.). Those who know me understand my goal is to build community and find win-win solutions.
So, for those who don’t know me, here’s the deal:
I have no problem whatsoever with the definition of the rights of way and the right for all Milpitians to be able to enjoy access to our public places. In our city, I believe having such a definition is a good thing. Especially, if the definition applies from 7 am-11 pm.
But, I would NOT support the “use of rights of way and public property” ordinance in its current form because:
- There was no real discussion on the cost of enforcing this ordinance. How much of MPD’s precious resources would have to be spent on this and what is the right priority if the city is already experiencing high rates of property crimes (such as auto & catalytic converter thefts, burglaries, vandalism, etc.)?
- There are a few questions about the communication around and implementation of this new ordinance:
- How will the city communicate this new ordinance to the unhoused? Will it only be through the unhoused violating this new policy? Remember, a lot of our unhoused have no internet, phone service, newspaper access, etc.
- Will the signage in sensitive areas be removed immediately once the time specified by the resolution expires? Or will the signage have an expiration date that is also posted?
- How will you deal with those persons who are disabled or severely sick and may need help moving their items to an appropriate location if asked (i.e. they are willing to move, but aren’t able to)?
- Criminalization of the unhoused. This approach says that MPD officers would do the enforcement. While MPD does an awesome job approaching our unhoused with compassion, it is still quite intimidating and stressful for someone who feels “society has already kicked them hard in the mouth” or perhaps has already had challenges with the law.
Also, because, as the mayor said, this does nothing to solve homelessness, there is a potential that there will be more unhoused on our streets due to inflation, continued rise in the cost of housing, and other economic factors. This ordinance tells them that they have to move or get fined or go to jail. But, exactly where do you tell them to move to? Given that there is no real answer to that question, they will be more likely to be fined, which they cannot afford, or end up in jail.
Many of the unhoused are trying to get off the streets. They don’t want to be there, but their circumstances limit what they can do. Imposing fines and jail time because they have no place to go adds to the hurdles for them to get back into society. This “kick them when they are down” approach actually worsens the situation for our unhoused, which is counterproductive to the community goal of getting them off our streets.
Proposed Remediation Step – A Win-Win
Instead of having MPD be the “first responders,” let’s have the HEAT team and/or trained volunteers (such as from the Hope for the Unhoused) approach the unhoused and let them know about the “right of way” violation. These folks will then also address other potential needs such as food and water, medical needs through the VHHP backpack team, assessments to get into the housing queue at the county, etc. MPD should be aware of the contact to provide backup if needed. By providing these services, our unhoused are more likely to work with us to avoid violating this policy again, and know that they have someone that they can go to. It gives the unhoused an opportunity to get help without being intimidated or defensive. In this approach, enforcement would only be necessary if the unhoused refused help or to move.
Why Do We Need this in the Ordinance?
This goes to intent. If we have this provision in the ordinance, it lets future administrations and those who have to enforce it, as well as the community, know what we were thinking about. Without this understanding, it should not be surprising that the implementation of this policy would criminalize our unhoused. So, let’s make sure to include this remediation step in the policy.
We can do better
I urge the city council to tackle the questions that I have posed and add a remediation step to create a better policy for our community. At the end of the day, I believe it is in the best interests of the community that this policy and its enforcement be something that is rarely used. If we create more opportunities and pathways for the unhoused to permanent housing, they are not on our streets. We know that this is possible. As an example, take Hope for the Unhoused: since April of last year, we have helped to get 16 unhoused folks into permanent housing. These 16 people won’t be violating this policy if they continue with the wraparound services that they have.
But to create those opportunities and pathways is not easy. It demands strong relationships with the unhoused as well as good partnerships with other nonprofits, local agencies, county departments, and the state all working together to make it happen. And the city can do better in that regard.
Board President of Hope for the Unhoused