Monday, March 23, 2009

This doesn't seem like the right way to go

Anna Richardson grew up in Santa Cruz and has been homeless off and on since leaving home at age 14. Now she and Miguel DeLeon are sleeping on the streets and accumulating tickets.

Taking the criminalization of homelessness to an unusual level, the city of Santa Cruz, California, is seeking an injunction against a couple with more than 60 unpaid citations they've received downtown related to their homelessness.

The injunction would make certain "nuisance behaviors" -- such as sleeping outside -- a violation of a court order, which would lead to a contempt charge. If the pair were to ignore the contempt charge, they could be arrested.

Miguel DeLeon, 35, and Anna Richardson, 27, are homeless musicians who have lived in the downtown area for several years. They have accumulated numerous tickets for camping, washing in a city fountain and other violations but habitually fail to appear in court or pay the fines.

During the hearing, Judge Paul Burdick said he was inclined to grant an injunction, upon better proof the offenses occurred. He said he did not believe it would violate their Constitutional rights.

"The defendants have choices; they are not involuntarily homeless," Burdick said. "They don't have to hang out downtown."

Defense attorney Jonathan Gettleman challenged the judge's assertion, saying there were 496 shelter beds and an estimated 5,000 homeless people in Santa Cruz. "So not everybody gets to sleep inside," he said.

Gettleman, who said he took the case pro bono after overhearing the couple talk about it in a courtroom hallway, said homeless people have the right to share public space.

"They are not harming anyone," he said. "The city has a matrix of ordinances that makes life untenable for homeless people, and civil contempt carries serious consequences."

The next hearing in the case is set for May 15.

Read the San Jose Mercury-News report here.


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