Briefing Room: when personal property is on public lands

Homelessness is not unique to Seal Beach

Hi Seal Beach,

This week our friends at the City Manager’s Office received an email from a resident.  See below:

“Homeless person has left a variety of clothing near the Seal beach sign near the corner of tulip in Lampson. the clothing is both in the parkway area as well as in the gutter.


Hi Julie,

Thanks for your question.  I’ve written about how the City of Seal Beach, and more specifically the SBPD deals with issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness several times in the past.  However, I don’t know that I’ve written specifically about personal property left on public lands.

First, the Seal Beach Municipal Code addresses this topic:

“7.20.020 Camping and Storage on City Property.

“A. Definitions. For the purposes of this section, the following words and phrases shall mean:

“1. Camp: to pitch or occupy camp facilities; to use camp paraphernalia.

“2. Camp Facilities: temporary shelters including without limitation tents, huts and lean-tos.

“3. Camp Paraphernalia: tarpaulins, cots, beds, sleeping bags, hammocks or non-city provided cooking facilities and similar equipment.

“4. Store: to put aside or accumulate for use when needed, to put for safekeeping, to place or leave in a location.

“B. Prohibitions.

“1. No person shall camp, occupy camp facilities or use camp paraphernalia in or on any city property, public property or public right-of-way.

“2. No person shall store any personal property in or on any city property, public property or public right-of-way. (Ord. 1515)”

What we’re really talking about here is B.2. (No person shall store any personal property in or on any city property, public property or public right-of-way).

The first thing to remember whenever dealing with issues surrounding homelessness is this: homelessness is not a crime.  Despite the fact that a person experiencing homelessness has left property near the Seal Beach sign does not necessarily mean that we’re going to run out and cite the person for violating the Municipal Code.

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.

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 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.

Julie, as a result of your email we’ve asked our Quality of Life Officers to check the specific area and attempt to make contact with the individual or individuals.  We will offer resources, and both verbally and using signage mark the area as an illegal camp.  After a period of time, we will return to check for compliance, offer resources again, and then with the help of our partners at Public Works, collect the property and store it as found property.  If nobody claims the property after six months, it is disposed of. Thanks again for your question Julie.  Keep them coming Seal Beach.  Email us at today!