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San Diego Looks to Los Angeles on Homeless Issue

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It’s rare that San Diego thinks it has anything to learn from the big city up north. But tomorrow, city officials will head to Los Angeles to find out how leaders there manage their homeless problem. Reporter Amita Sharma has the story.

Like Los Angeles, San Diego is embroiled in a lawsuit over its practice of ticketing homeless people for sleeping outside even when there isn’t enough shelter space to house them. Lawyers for the homeless call the citations cruel and unconstitutional. A ruling by a federal appeals court in April agreed with that argument in a similar case out of Los Angeles. Last week, City Attorney Mike Aguirre tried to broker a settlement in the case by designating certain zones where police would not pass out tickets for illegal lodging. But San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders and police chief Bill Lansdowne rejected that idea. Paul Cooper is counsel to Chief Lansdowne.

Paul Cooper: We think that if in fact you created a safe zone, you’d suddenly have far more problems. You’d have more crime problems, drug problems and we just don’t think that’s a good solution for the homeless. If the solution involves allowing the homeless to sleep on the streets, then we really haven’t solved the problem. We don’t think the answer is to allow the homeless to live and die on the streets. We think the answer is to have more services and more shelter beds.

Tim Cohelan, one of the attorneys who filed a suit against the city for ticketing the homeless, defended Aguirre for trying to settle the case. Cohelan says he believes more shelter space can be found, but only if business and city leaders come together and get creative. Meanwhile, he says the city should follow the law and quit handing out tickets to the homeless for sleeping outside when they have no other choice.

Tim Cohelan : There are not enough shelter beds and the persons that are ticketed are persons in our case that have not committed any other offenses. There’s no drunkenness. There’s no drug use. There’s no mental illness issues. The lead plaintiffs in our case are people; they’re veterans, victims of domestic violence and other people who find themselves on the street.

Cohelan added that he believes San Diego has little to learn from Los Angeles on how it handles its homeless people. He said this city has a reputation for being more creative, more innovated when it comes to problems like the homeless.

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