[Hpn] City is prosecuting homeless woman;Buena Park, CA;7/9/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Mon, 09 Jul 2001 14:24:28 -0400


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Monday, July 9, 2001
Orange County Register <http://www.ocregister.com>
[Orange County, California]
Local News section
City is prosecuting homeless woman
<http://www.ocregister.com/local/home00709cci.shtml>

Some complain that Buena Park's approach to transients runs counter to many 
cities' aid-oriented tactics.

July 9, 2001

By DEBBIE TALANIAN and TIFFANY MONTGOMERY
The Orange County Register


BUENA PARK An unusual case is unfolding in a north-county courtroom between 
a homeless woman who refuses to leave town and a city government determined 
to enforce its anti-camping laws - even if it means throwing a 66-year-old 
woman in jail.

Advocates for the homeless say the prosecution is especially surprising 
because many police departments across the county are using a fresh approach 
with the homeless compared to the rush of arrests and court cases during a 
transient crackdown in the early 1990s.

In this recent case, however, Buena Park officials are prosecuting Dianne 
Grue, who appears to be the town's most permanent transient.

Grue's jury trial is set to begin at 8 a.m. today in Courtroom N-11 of the 
Orange County Superior Court North Justice Center in Fullerton.

Grue has slept in different parts of the city for about four years, usually 
with two to six other people, and has been ticketed for illegally camping 
six times. She has always pleaded guilty, sometimes paying a fine or 
spending up to a week in jail. Her current case took a turn when she failed 
last month to appear in court for trial, prompting a judge to issue a 
warrant for her arrest. Grue appeared in court Friday with her attorney and 
was released without posting bail.

"(Police) keep telling me, 'If you don't like it here, leave,' " Grue said 
recently. "(But) it's not going to be different anywhere else."

Police have told her about local shelters, but she says she doesn't feel 
safe in those she has slept in in Santa Ana and Buena Park. So when her 
monthly $380 Social Security check runs out about the second week of each 
month, she leaves the motel she calls home and hits the streets.

After her latest arrest in November near the railroad tracks, Buena Park 
City Attorney Gregory Palmer offered her 15 days in jail.

But Grue said she was terrified of being locked up for so long and decided 
to fight the charges. Her attorney is Jon Alexander, who represented Buena 
Park minister Wiley Drake in his battle to shelter the homeless at his First 
Southern Baptist Church.

In the Grue case, Alexander has accused the city of "putting a human being 
in a cage for the sin of being poor."

But city officials say they are simply enforcing a law that Grue refuses to 
obey. Most of the time, transients move on once officers inform them about 
the city's anti- camping rules, police Capt. Robert Chaney said.

"Everyone else in the world seems to comply and sees the purpose behind 
these ordinances," he said. "There's this small group of people who chose to 
interpret the law differently and make the world think that they're 
victims."

Grue and her friends usually sleep in out-of-the-way places out of public 
view. But a few times a year, police conduct sweeps of homeless encampments 
at freeway underpasses and near railroad tracks to keep the populations from 
taking root and growing, Chaney said. Otherwise, police only get involved 
when there are complaints.

When police do cite transients, officers provide shelter information. But 
unlike some other agencies - such as the Costa Mesa Police and Orange County 
Sheriff's departments - Buena Park has not asked advocates for the homeless 
to line up mental- health services, low-income housing or job training to 
help Grue and the others in her condition.

"Is it a police responsibility to try and put these resources in place for 
them?" Chaney asked.

While it may not be a police responsibility, said Karen Roper, 
homeless-prevention coordinator for the county, she has been heartened that 
several law enforcement agencies have asked for her advice when facing 
homeless encampments. At large transient gatherings in Trabuco Canyon and 
Costa Mesa, Roper organized a team of nonprofits and other agencies to visit 
the settlements several times to get people connected to services after 
receiving calls from police.

"The message I try to get out to law enforcement is ... I'd love to assist 
them in addressing these issues," she said.

Jim Palmer, president of the Orange County Rescue Mission, said he also has 
been thrilled with the change in police attitudes over the past several 
years. He has worked with the Sheriff's Department and Anaheim and Tustin 
police, providing training for officers and helping them find resources for 
transients.

Palmer wishes cities like Buena Park would spend as much time and money 
solving the problem as they do prosecuting the needy.

Though anti-camping ordinances are fairly common in Orange County, Palmer 
and other advocates said they have not heard of any transients being 
prosecuted or sent to jail in several years.

Laura Weir, deputy director of the Washington D.C.-based National Law Center 
on Homelessness & Poverty, said the usual penalties for violating camping 
ordinances - which 73 percent of the 49 largest American cities have on the 
books -- are warnings and tickets.

"It is a little bit extreme to be prosecuting someone for that," she said. 
"It seems like a poor use of resources. The money spent prosecuting her 
could be much better used providing assistance."

In the early 1990s, Santa Ana officials aggressively tried to rid the Civic 
Center area of hundreds of homeless people who had created a tent city, 
confiscating transients' bed rolls and arresting 64 people for littering, 
jaywalking and urinating in public.

Some of the homeless sued, winning about $450,000 in damages.

The city changed its strategy in 1992, when the City Council unanimously 
passed a citywide camping ban, an ordinance fought in court by advocates for 
the homeless but supported by 90 other cities and counties as it wound its 
way through the court system. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1995 
that the camping law was constitutional and falls within the city's police 
power.

Since then, there have not been the same kind of homeless problems near the 
Civic Center, Santa Ana City Attorney Joseph Fletcher said, though 
authorities occasionally ticket transients for camping in public places.

The number of people living on the streets in Orange County has increased. A 
recent study pegs the number on any given night at 19,000 - an 8 percent 
increase from last year, Roper said. An estimated 14,000 of those are 
families with children.

There are 2,197 shelter beds in the county.

Even though Grue is facing a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $2,000 
fine if convicted, her situation may be looking up. Last year, she began 
receiving about $400 a month more for a disability, and has been considering 
renting a room somewhere.

"I think about it all the time, but I don't know where I want to go," she 
said.

In the meantime, she has been staying in her attorney's Dana Point home.


Staff writer Theresa Salinas contributed to this report.


--[Sidebar]
Buena Park's anti-camping ordinances:

Unlawful camping, effective January 1996:

It is unlawful for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities or use camp 
paraphernalia in or on any street, any public parking lot or public area, 
improved or unimproved, except as otherwise provided by law.

Storage of personal property in public places, effective January 1996:

It is unlawful for any person to store personal property, including camp 
facilities and camp paraphernalia, in any park, public street, public 
parking lot or any other public property, improved or unimproved, except as 
otherwise provided by law.

Sleeping in vehicles on public property, effective January 1997:

It shall be unlawful for any person to sleep in any vehicle on any publicly 
owned property in the city at any time between dusk and dawn the next day, 
except as hereinafter provided. This section shall not apply to any person 
who, while driving, stops on public property, including any street, to sleep 
due to becoming too tired to drive safely. In such event, however, it shall 
be unlawful for any such driver to sleep in his or her vehicle on such 
public property for more than two consecutive hours.

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Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA


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