Activists rally against new city ban on living in vehicles

SAN DIEGO - A group that advocates for homeless people rallied outside City Hall Tuesday afternoon to protest a proposed ban on people sleeping and living in their cars.

The group, the San Diega Emergency Hosing Alliance, called on the San Diego City Council to reject an ordinance that would place a limited ban on residents sleeping overnight or living in their cars within city limits. The activists say the law will criminalize being homeless, making them subject to fines because they are can't afford permanent housing and are forced to sleep in their vehicles.

“The scariest thing is if they’re going to arrest us! Before that they would ticket us," said protester Valerie Grischy, who lives in a recreational vehicle. “I am scared to death of being arrested.  I can recover from the tickets, I can possibly undo having my vehicle towed. But I can’t undo having a record.   I can’t undo being arrested.”

Grischy says says her only source of income is monthly disability checks, but the money does not come close to covering the bills.

Steve Chatzky, another of the homeless activists protesting the proposed ban on living in vehicles, said he fell on hard times and then retired.  He too, is living in a recreational vehicle.

“Nobody really wants to live in his or her vehicle," Chatsky said. "Even if they do live in their RV’s - so what? Why is it not a choice?  You’ve taken away the choice by having [high rents] for an apartment.”

The ordinance which the City Council is considering would make it illegal for residents to sleep in their vehicles from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. or at any time within 500 feet of a school, excluding colleges and universities, or a place of residence. The ordinance considers residents to be living in their vehicle if they use it for things like sleeping, bathing or preparing meals.

The council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee approved the proposal last month without recommendations, allowing the council to make changes and amendments as they see fit.

Homeless advocates and City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, who cast the lone dissenting vote, argued the city should redraft the ordinance and take feedback from the residents who would be most affected by it.

The ordinance is replacing a nearly 36-year-old ban that the council unanimously voted to repeal in February. The city had not enforced the old ban since last year, when a federal judge issued an injunction because the ban was unconstitutionally vague in how the city defined a person as living in a car.

The city intends to support residents living in their vehicles by providing monitored parking lots where residents can sleep overnight and access services like job training and housing assistance. The city contracts with Jewish Family Service of San Diego to oversee its two existing safe parking lots as well as a third lot scheduled to open later this year.

The council will consider the ordinance during its 2 p.m. session in the 12th floor Council Chambers at the City Administration Building at 202 C St.

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