[Hpn] City is prosecuting homeless woman;Buena Park, CA;7/9/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 09 Jul 2001 14:24:28 -0400
Monday, July 9, 2001
Orange County Register <http://www.ocregister.com>
[Orange County, California]
Local News section
City is prosecuting homeless woman
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
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
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
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
In the meantime, she has been staying in her attorney's Dana Point home.
Staff writer Theresa Salinas contributed to this report.
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.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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