Monday, May 17, 2004


Do homeless shelter users give up their Constitutional rights?

According to the Press Democrat, the City Council is expected to approve an 80-bed homeless shelter on Finley Avenue in SWSR tomorrow (4/18/04, Item 11.3), and hire Catholic Charities to manage it (Item 11.4). Nick Baker is program manager for Catholic Charities' Homeless Services Center.

Mike McCoy's PD story today reported (5/17, "SR likely to OK 80-bed shelter/Neighbors opposed to Finley Avenue site worry homeless will wander area, pose threat to kids"),

"Initial plans call for it to house the homeless -- a potential mix of single men, women and families -- between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. weekdays and 24 hours a day on weekends and holidays. An evening and morning meal will be served and residents will be asked to leave the neighborhood via cars, bikes or buses that pass through the area when the shelter is closed."

The story begs the question whether shelter users must give up their constitutional rights, in exchange for two meals and a night's sleep indooors. McCoy wrote,

"At the Finley site, the homeless cleared to live there must either have cars or bikes or agree to leave the area by bus when not in the shelter, Baker said. 'We'll give them a bus ticket if they don't have one or I'll drive them. It's important for us to be good neighbors,' he said.

All shelter residents--single men/women and families alike--will presumably have to leave the area between 9AM-5PM by car, bike, or bus. By what authority will the City and Catholic Charities ban them from the immediate neighborhood for eight hours on weekdays?

It's pertinent that Catholic Charities intends to carefully screen potential residents. The story continued,

"As for worries about dangers their homeless clientele might present, Baker said those who will be living at the Finley center will be screened to determine their suitability to live there.

That doesn't mean they will be barred admittance if they've had problems with drugs or alcohol or even past criminal histories. 'If a person has fulfilled their debt to society and doesn't have a past that would make it improbable that they should be allowed in a coed, family atmosphere, we need to do everything to allow them the opportunity to re-enter society,' he said."

It appears that only the harmless, docile, and reformed homeless will be welcome overnight at the shelter. The City and Catholic Charities will be relocating up to 80 new temporary residents in the Finley Avenue area, but throwing them out during the business day; while those the shelter rejects--the drug/alcohol users and criminals--will be free to hang out wherever they please.

The bottom line is the City and Catholic Charities don't seem to care about the rights of the homeless people they are planning to serve; and the new shelter will leave the most difficult and unpleasant but needy members of the homeless population on the streets of Santa Rosa.
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