Briefing Room: Conversation must start by noting that homelessness is not a crime

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Having personal property in bags affixed to a bike is not a crime.

Hi Seal Beach!

Although we didn’t receive any questions this week, I was forwarded an email sent to City Staff from an Old Town resident named Shelly.

In short, Shelly saw a man who was experiencing homelessness at Eisenhower Park. The individual had a bike and a few bags which likely contained his personal property. Shelly sent a photo of the man (see above) and wrote “I so hope this is not allowed to stay and grow…” I can only presume that the “this” Shelly was referring to was a human being. Shelly didn’t write about (or as far as I know call the SBPD to report) any specific crime being broken.

Whenever I can write about the homelessness crisis in the United States, I always start by noting homelessness is not a crime. What Shelly saw, photographed, and sent to City Staff was not a crime. Resting in a park is not a crime. Using the park is not a crime. Having personal property in bags affixed to a bike is not a crime. While there are some quality-of-life issues that are associated with homelessness (urinating in public, littering, sleeping in vehicles), we all need to remember that one who is simply experiencing homelessness, is not necessarily doing anything illegal.

Homelessness is not a problem that is unique to Seal Beach. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, there are over 161,500 people experiencing homelessness in California. Based on my own personal observations, Seal Beach does not have nearly the same number of individuals experiencing homelessness as many other California coastal cities. Perhaps therefore when Shelly saw the one individual, she felt it necessary to send the photo?

As we’ve discussed in the past, the Seal Beach Police Department does a large amount of work, both with the homeless community and to address our quality-of-life issues here in town. We have three Quality of Life Officers who are specifically trained to help facilitate homelessness outreach. We regularly have specially trained clinicians who work for the Orange County Health Care Agency ride with our officers to conduct similar efforts. These clinicians also help with mental health related calls. Particularly as they conduct risk assessments, initiate involuntary hospitalizations, and most importantly, provide resources and education to those who are both in need and request the help.

Our Quality-of-Life Officers have outstanding working relationships with other officers assigned to similar details throughout both Long Beach and Orange County. We’ve organized large scale outreach days with Long Beach Police Officers, County Social Workers, Mental Health Professionals, Veterans Affairs staff, and others who can help end homelessness, not just in Seal Beach but throughout the entire region.

So please remember, when you see a person experiencing homelessness being homeless, it is not a crime. If you do see an actual law being broken (non-emergency), please call us at (562) 594-7232 (or 9-1-1 for life-or-death emergencies).

Instead of emailing other City Staff, please call us and we’ll be more than happy to check the welfare of the individual experiencing homelessness. Although enforcement is sometimes necessary with those experiencing homelessness, there are often circumstances which require a level of compassion, empathy, and understanding. As if I don’t write this enough, I think our staff does a really good job of emoting all those needed qualities when working within our community.

In closing, if you or anyone you know in town is experiencing homelessness or is suffering from food insecurities, please let us know or visit https://www.ocgov.com/services/homeless and https://www.211oc.org/ for assistance.

Please keep your questions coming! Email your questions to askacop@sealbeachca.gov. Thanks!

Briefing Room: Conversation must start by noting that homelessness is not a crime