Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Federation nixes proposed solicitation legislation

SEATTLE COMMUNITY COUNCIL FEDERATION

March 31, 2010


Councilmember Tim Burgess

600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd Floor

P.O Box 94749

Seattle, Washington 98124-4749

Subject: Proposed Aggressive Solicitation Law

Dear Councilmember Burgess:

On Thursday March 25th at our monthly meeting, with 18 Community Council’s represented, the Federation voted unanimously to oppose your “aggressive solicitation” proposal.

As written, the proposal would give Police broad authority to cite anyone who they determine has caused a reasonable person “to feel compelled” to give. Such vague language turns police into psychologists who must determine the mindset of the person who has been solicited – were they compelled or not? It invites selective enforcement and discrimination against those who don’t look quite right—whose only crime may be their mere appearance—perhaps it’s their color or dress that may be a discomfort to others and thus cause someone to feel compelled to give. It’s overly broad and will invite abuse at the expense of people whose only crime is that they are poor. It casts a net over all who are homeless and in need, not just a few who cause problems.

In San Francisco, where a similar law was put in place in 2004, in four years, 56,000 citations were issued, costing the city 10 million dollars in court and enforcement costs. (Note that “only” about half of these citations were related to panhandling – the rest for other “quality of life” violations.) The majority of those arrested were people of color. All these resources that should have been directed to fighting real crime were wasted. According to one city supervisor (a city councilmember there),“If you had been here several years ago, before the ordinance passed, and came back today, you wouldn’t see a difference in the level of panhandling. There’s as much as ever."

( http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_3_panhandling.html).

What the San Francisco law did, however, was cause great hardship for many homeless and low income people whose only crime was that they were poor. Most of those who are issued a citation cannot pay it, and then warrants are issued.

To quote from “A study Conducted by Religious Witness” entitled “To Determine the Extent and Cost of the Enforcement of ‘ Quality of Life’ Ordinances Against Homeless

Individuals in San Francisco during the Newsom Administration (January 2004-March 2008, ” those arrested under the law in San Francisco, when warrants are issued (since many who receive citations cannot pay the fines) these people "can't pass the standard background checks required for many services like federal housing assistance, SSI or SSDI benefits, employment or even some substance abuse treatment, because they have outstanding warrant."

In other words, a faulty citation for the crime of being poor which cannot be paid because they are poor—warrant issued—and then they are denied access to housing and services needed to help them out of poverty.

This divisive legislation takes us back 15 years to the era of Mark Sidran when without a doubt it was one of the most divisive and conflictual periods in this city’s recent political history. Why take us back to those times with such controversial legislation will do nothing to address real crime?

There already are numerous laws on the books dealing with real street-related crimes, including laws against assault, pedestrian interference, expectoration, trespass, urination, property defacement, theft, graffiti, drug loitering, stalking, littering, public drinking, menacing, malicious harassment, obstruction, to name just a few. It may be that a stronger police presence is needed to apply laws already on the books to respond to these and other real crimes. If so, then let’s move in that direction, rather than waste time, limited resources and jail space on laws that cast a net over everyone.

More importantly, let’s move forward with real solutions that truly help get people off the streets. We want to see, instead, legislation introduced now and first that calls for more money and new programs not just rearranges existing budgets and deck chairs. A far better approach would be a funding package for more housing, livable wage jobs, and community-based treatment, counseling and services for those with disabilities (and linked to housing).

Thank you for considering the views of the Seattle Community Council Federation.

Sincerely,

Jeannie Hale, President

3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE

Seattle, Washington 98105

206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631

jeannieh@serv.net

cc: All City Councilmembers