In response to “Protect the river against squatters,” June 25:
As members of this compassionate and caring community, we share your concerns about the environmental quality of our river and wetlands system. We understand the tents on the banks of our river are an eyesore.
Despite what you see in other communities in California, the health and safety conditions are far different. On occasion, we get a camp that is out of control, and we quickly move in to get rid of the camp as swiftly as possible after providing proper notice. The two outreach teams do a tremendous job monitoring our Napa County camps and are very responsive to community concerns.
The two teams are Abode outreach and the Napa Police Department outreach team. Outreach services include access to mental health and drug and alcohol services, job assistance, and housing assistance. These teams provide direct services in the field. The goal is to make sure our homeless are connected to services, with the emphasis on long term and sustainable housing.
On the environmental side, Abode provides trash bags, which are picked up by local work crews. The homeless in Napa are encouraged and sometimes rewarded for picking up after themselves and helping to care for our river and community. The outreach teams have elected to use a system of mitigation and compassionate enforcement for our homeless population.
Many people who live on the streets suffer from debilitating conditions that make living a conventional lifestyle challenging if not impossible. Instead of “criminalizing” these individuals, we make efforts to connect them with services. Our advocates work diligently to get them into temporary and eventually into permanent housing or work to reunite them with family or friends.
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While homeless camping is not authorized in the area along the river, we are limited in enforcement efforts due to the laws about homelessness, which are always changing. The Napa shelter system runs at nearly 100 percent capacity, which makes the enforcement of our no-camping ordinances challenging.
The city must operate under the rule of law, and we fall under the Ninth Circuit Jurisdiction. In June 2018 the court ruled in Martin vs. Boise (Idaho): "As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
Another example of the ever-changing laws in California: Currently, Assembly Bill 516 is working through the legislative process, and if the law is passed, it will make it more difficult for municipalities to address homeless issues associated with those living in vehicles to include RV’s found upon roadways or public land.
We agree that homelessness is a complex and complicated problem that leaves its mark on all community members and the environment. If you come across a homeless camp, please reach out to Napa PD or Abode outreach (707) 257-9479.
Chief of Police City of Napa