Government Law

Tax-funded urban revitalization programs in California push laws punishing the homeless, study says

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Many of California’s business improvement districts, which are private groups, violate the rights of homeless people, according to a recent study.

Conducted by University of California Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, the study refers to the districts or BIDs as “Homeless Exclusion Districts.” It found that the groups, funded by property assessments and often located in downtown areas, have little oversight, a news release states.

The study also claims that private security groups, collaborating with police departments, often handle enforcement of BID practices meant to drive homeless people out of the area.

“That includes efforts to enact, preserve and bolster laws that punish activities such as sitting, resting, and sleeping that homeless people need to do in public,” the study’s abstract states.

Also, some BIDs have tried to push shelters and service providers out of their areas, according to the study. It suggests banning anti-homeless advocacy by the BIDs, and increasing government oversight and regulation. It also calls for ending the taxpayer funding of BIDs.

Kerry Morrison, executive director of a Hollywood nonprofit that oversees two BIDs, told the Los Angeles Times that the report’s findings were oversimplified.

“To make this connection between BIDs and so-called anti-homeless laws and the increase in homelessness is a pretty simplistic view of what is a really complex social problem right now,” said Morrison, who also serves on the citizen oversight committee for a proposed homeless housing bond.

The clinic surveyed BIDs in California’s 69 largest cities, and did in-depth case studies for the cities of Berkeley, Chico, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco, according to the abstract. Research included analysis of public records, as well as interviews with BID officials and homeless people.

The study was done on behalf of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which works on behalf of homeless people.

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