Rosemary Johnston, Laura Berend and Scott Dreher, the three worthies who wrote the bombastic tirade against me (The Daily Transcript, Oct. 1): I respectfully suggest that they take a deep breath and relax.
They should know it is OK if people disagree. However, the public discourse is best served by rational discussions, not fulminatory misstatements of my views on religion or the law.
Of course I respect their concern for the homeless.
I just happen to believe, based on much experience, that we can do a better job than we are doing now.
And how are we doing now? Even the angry Johnston admits there are around 9,000 homeless in this county and half of them unsheltered.
For those of us old enough to remember, it didn’t used to be this way.
The widespread existence of hundreds of thousands of disconnected humans in need is a result of a broad array of dysfunctional government policies that should be reversed.
It is simply inhumane to continue on the current path.
If we do, we will continue growing the homeless population in San Diego until we have the numbers approaching downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major cities.
The fact is that the very policies apparently advocated by Johnston and her two legal associates have been in place for the past 35 years or so and we now have more homeless than ever.
It is time for a change and building more shelters is not the answer.
First the legal issue: Contrary to the unfounded assumptions of Professor Berend or lawyer Dreher, I was referring to the seminal case on this issue: Jones v. Los Angeles.
A panel of the 9th Circuit upheld then-Federal District Judge Kim Wardlaw’s ruling enjoining the LAPD from enforcing health and sanitation laws to protect its citizens from the nearly 12,000 homeless that had then accumulated in downtown Los Angeles.
I have been there and seen the mess. It is beyond imagining.
Wardlaw is a classic liberal activist judge who cites her Hispanic heritage as giving her special insight for the “underdog.”
Instead of applying the Constitution or the law, she rules with her conscience, thusly assuming that hers is superior to those who passed the laws or attempt to enforce them.
She is so liberal that she was a finalist in the selection process to replace Justice Souter in the left wing of the U.S. Supreme Court, a seat that eventually went to the even more liberal Sonia Sotomayor.
In one case, Wardlaw overturned a three-strike conviction based on that fact that in her opinion the latest strike was not serious enough to warrant the penalty and therefore violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
She may have had a point there, but I doubt it. I never saw a three-strike case where the defendant didn’t already have an extensive rap sheet that included more than just three strikes.
But Wardlaw considered the defendant and underdog and let him go, to hell with the victims of his crimes.
In the Jones case, Wardlaw followed the specious thesis that “homelessness should not be criminalized” and that enforcing laws that impact their free abuse of private and public property violates the same Eighth Amendment prohibition.
I have never seen a law against homelessness. So those that use that phrase are simply propagandists.
The constitutional point is that “enforcement” is not “punishment” and therefore cannot trigger an Eighth Amendment violation.
As I pointed out before, the horrible punishment imposed on the homeless for violating reasonable laws is normally ... a citation.
Only repeated violations of the various laws would, and should, bring a jail term.
The better opinion in that case was issued by Judge Pamela Rymer who correctly said: “The L.A. ordinance does not punish people simply because they are homeless. It targets specific conduct….”
Why should homeless people be exempt from trespassing, health and sanitation laws, littering, public urinating and defecation?
The hopes and fears of the thousands of L.A. residents who wish to protect themselves, their children and their property have a place in the discussion for everyone except Wardlaw.
As to the rest of the assertions, let me repeat them accurately instead of the diatribe written by Johnston.
Johnston states that she is the executive director of the Interfaith Shelter Network of San Diego.
Good for her and kudos to the various congregations that have supported the effort.
It appears to me that she erupted so vituperously to my suggestions because she and her colleagues are indeed doing the very things that facilitate homelessness.
If someone is going to give free beds and food, why should anyone work?
No, I don’t want her to stop giving freely of her time and talent to people in need. That is her right.
But neither should she object to my efforts to advocate a solution to the homeless problem aimed at reducing their numbers, not enlarging their estate at the expense of the rest of us.
Here is a quick review of my recommendations:
First, many of the homeless are the products of three public institutions: the state and federal prisons, the rickety mental health system and the county jail.
Each homeless person is already entitled to an array of public services, services that are funded by the state with cash delivered to the County of San Diego.
Why is it not the policy of the city, county, state and feds that prior to release, inmates be introduced to a county social worker, triaged and enrolled into the programs to which they are entitled by law?
Why wait until they have found a niche behind my back fence, our river beds, downtown sidewalks, freeway shoulders and public parks?
My second suggestion was to “unpack” the homeless problem and note the difference between the unwilling and the willing homeless.
The unwilling are entitled to public assistance as mentioned, and will benefit from the work of the Rescue Mission, Monsignor Carroll’s missions, and indeed the Interfaith efforts.
They can be expected to make good use of the services and work their way off the streets.
But the other group, the willing homeless have a right to be homeless but they should not be violating rational laws that define a society instead of a mob.
People have a right to the free use and enjoyment of their own property and that dedicated by the public for similar use.
Nothing should give the homeless to the right to “privatize the public space” as mentioned in the ACLU v. Las Vegas case.
The municipalities should not abandon their very reason for being by sacrificing the health and safety of their law-abiding citizens in favor of a homeless tide.
They should enact just ordinances that pass constitutional muster for free speech, rational nexus, compelling public interest, specificity and then enforce them.
During enforcement, if repeated violations bring a jail term, the jail should provide a channel into the social services available to the subject and then be made a term and condition of probation.
A competent homeless policy would feature avenues of escape from the condition and fair enforcement of rational laws designed to protect the public from homeless lawlessness.
If we actually do care about our fellow human beings that are camped throughout downtown San Diego, it is time for a change.
Keeping on with the present policies is unconscionable.
Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to email@example.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.