March 25, 2015

 Honorable Carol Liu
California State Senate
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Right to Rest Act of 2015, SB 608 (Liu) – Support

 Dear Senator Liu,

Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), a 22-year-old public arts organization located in San Francisco’s Mission District, supports your bill, SB 608, which will end the criminalization of rest and accompanying violations of basic human and civil rights for all people, regardless of their housing status. In doing so, SB 608 would encourage the diversion of expenditures on citing and jailing people for resting in public spaces on efforts to prevent homelessness.

 California, with only 12 percent of the country’s overall population but 22 percent of its homeless population and 25 percent of its homeless veteran population, is at the epicenter of the criminalization of homelessness. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, California cities are substantially more likely than cities in other states to ban rest. While only 33 percent of non-California cities restrict this activity, 74 percent of California cities ban the practice.

Researchers from the Policy Advocacy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School analyzed the prevalence of these types of municipal codes restricting rest and sharing of food in 58 California cities for its report “California’s New Vagrancy Laws: The Growing Enactment and Enforcement of Anti-Homeless Laws in the Golden State.”  Researchers identified over 500 municipal laws criminalizing standing, sitting, resting, sleeping and sharing of food in public places as well as laws making it illegal to ask for money, nearly nine laws per city, on average. The study also found that the number of ordinances targeting those behaviors rose along with the rise in homelessness following the sharp decline of federal funding for affordable housing that was cut in the early 1980s and again with the Great Recession in 2008.

Criminalizing practices that are not criminal not only worsens the condition of people without homes, but also narrows their opportunities to escape homelessness. By acknowledging the failure of municipal laws that criminalize poverty and homelessness, we hope that passage of this legislation will improve the focus on more humane and effective responses to homelessness.  

The Right to Rest Act of 2015 will end the practice of citing and imprisoning Californians for resting, sharing food or practicing religion in public.  

One of the reason’s that Clarion Alley Mural Project is so passionate about SB 608 is that a number of folks have contacted CAMP over the last several years to let us know that they had been harassed on the alley for money by guys with “druggie auras” and who at times have become verbally aggressive and have made visitors to the alley nervous and uncomfortable. This has created a situation in which the police (the Mission Police Station is directly across from Clarion Alley) will now patrol the alley and harass and give citations to anyone who is sitting on the alley, which also includes artists taking a break from painting. I myself was detained for 30 minutes last year by 2 police officers for sitting on the ground and resting across from the mural I was working on.

The men (and sometimes boys) who the police harass or cite on the alley are often homeless or housing unstable and part of the street community. They aren’t “bad people,” rather the opposite – at heart they’re very kind and care about the alley and the murals – as the space is part of their home and it is their community. However, they’re struggling and often desperate because they are in pain – physically, emotionally, and/or mentally … or they’re hungry … or cold … or in desperate need of medical care. Some are addicted to drugs/alcohol … and some are recovering from addiction … or are seriously trying to get help. So far we aren’t aware of any incidents in which anyone has become physically violent. At least two of these men are formally part of CAMP – and often help with maintaining the murals on the alley. In fact, they both regularly repair murals and clean up tags – as they are both artists and care about the alley because it is their home/community. 

From a broader perspective, these individuals reflect a much deeper concern – one that’s become especially glaring in San Francisco – the growing divide and disparity between the rich and everyone else. San Francisco’s “leadership” is catering heavily to the wealthy – in every way, shape, and form – and leaving everyone else struggling, and often desperate, and many on the street with NO alternatives. Many of the city’s services have been closed, or whittled way down. Sadly, San Francisco is becoming a city that invests heavily in shit – literally – as it continues to cultivate a culture that spends much of its money on high-end restaurants and boutique foodie ventures so that its new 1% residents are blowing hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in an hour or less – so they can just shit on the rest of the city … while many of the folks they’re pushing out are on the streets and starving.

Clarion Alley Mural Project supports SB 608 and thanks you for introducing this important legislation.


Megan Wilson, Director
Clarion Alley Mural Project

cc:  Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project (Co-Sponsor)
Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law and Poverty (Co-Sponsor)