San Luis Obispo City Council passed two new ordinances at a public hearing on Wednesday, April 14 that regulate the use of tents and shopping carts — a vote that mostly affects the homeless community.
The ordinances were meant to be discussed further at a May 4 city council meeting, but the council voted to postpone the discussion to a later date yet to be determined.
The “shopping cart ordinance” will prohibit the removal of shopping carts from retail establishment premises and designated parking areas unless authorization or consent from the cart owner to do so is presented. Officials say abandoned shopping carts often clutter the streets, interfere with traffic and end up in local creeks, according to a San Luis Obispo City press release.
The new ordinance will also require businesses to label each cart in order to identify its ownership and enforce signage in parking areas that warns people of the potential fines if removal were to occur. Additional requirements of the ordinance include businesses securing carts during after-hours and recovering abandoned carts on public or private property.
Due to raised concerns from residents, a second ordinance prohibits the use of tents and similar enclosed structures in public parks. The use of open-sided shade structures, blankets and lawn chairs is still permitted.
According to the press release, unpermitted tent usage promotes illicit activities, such as illegal drug use, leading to aggressive behaviors in parks and deferring them from their proposed public use as recreational areas.
Michelle Mansker, a lead medic for SLO Street Medics, a local group providing medical support to community members, said the ordinance further stigmatizes the unhoused community as drug addicts or unhygienic.
“People think [unhoused residents] are lazy or they just automatically assume that they’re criminals and don’t get to know them and don’t realize that they’re humans just like the rest of us,” Mansker said.
In addition, the press release said the tents obstruct park maintenance, as well as the general public’s use and amusement of the spaces. But the decision to address these optics, according to Mansker, seems to be in preparation for tourist season.
“There are some people in the city, or people that live in SLO that don’t like the way it looks to have unhoused people; they kind of want to hide them,” Mansker said.
The main purpose of the new ordinances is to guarantee that the intended use of San Luis Obispo parks by the general public is safe, lawful and peaceful during park hours of operation.
40 Prado Homeless Services Center Director Grace McIntosh said the current situation for the people who have to rely on tents for shelter is “unfortunate” and now foresees that many individuals affected by the ordinance will have to improvise.
“Maybe they can’t have their tent be in that same place because they’ve been asked to leave,” McIntosh said. “I think realistically many of them will find another location.”
The City said they will continue to prioritize housing and homelessness awareness as a main goal over the next several years. The proposed work program to address this goal will be discussed in further detail at the San Luis Obispo City Council meeting on April 20 as part of the 2021-23 financial plan.
“What I’ve heard is a lot of [unhoused people] just feel that they don’t know what to do, they don’t feel heard, they don’t feel like their needs are really being met,” Mansker said.
As of now, the City has engaged in contributing to initiatives to uphold the ongoing challenges related to houseless people through outreach, support services and regulation.
These actions include a variety of disbursements to assist in regional services such as the City-funded Grants-in-Aid program, which supports non-profit social services activities. Some activities include aiding unhoused residents with mental health and shelter services as well as additional programs.