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Senate bill pledges to shelter everyone in California

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A homeless man sleeping on a cement bench in SF. Photo by Andrew-Media

Say what you what about San Francisco-based State Sen. Scott Wiener, but he’s not afraid of tackling big problems.

Last week, Sen. Wiener’s office announced he would introduce a new bill—Senate Bill 48—that ”will create a “right to shelter” for unhoused residents throughout the state” and “ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers.”

According to the early version of the bill already entered into State Senate records:

The right to shelter shall include:

(1) A safe place to sleep and keep one’s belongings.

(2) An ability to access the shelter without having to sign up on a daily basis.

(3) An ability to remain with one’s partner.

[...] The Legislature does not intend that the right to shelter will be in lieu of prioritizing permanent housing for people who lack housing. Permanent housing is the goal and priority. Shelter is critically important in providing people with safe and healthy transitional living space until they can obtain permanent housing.

Left unaddressed in the current form of SB 48? Precisely how this will happen.

“The bill is currently in ‘intent form,’ which means the detailed policy will be developed over the coming months,” according to a press release from Wiener’s office.

A few other states employ right-to-shelter policies designed to keep the homeless off the streets.

As Massachusetts-based charity the Boston Foundation explains, “Right to shelter is a mandate that requires a state or municipality to provide temporary emergency shelter to every man, woman and child who is eligible for services, every night.”

If no shelter beds are available in Massachusetts, the state puts homeless residents up for a night in a motel.

New York has a similar policy, stemming from a 1979 New York Supreme Court decision.

It’s too early to speculate whether SB 48 will consider similar provisions ; Wiener told the San Francisco Chronicle that he does not want to imitate the New York model, but at the same time remains unsure about alternatives.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “California accounted for nearly half of all unsheltered people [not just homeless people] in the country in 2017,” an estimated count of more than 91,000.

That’s more than six times the estimated number of unsheltered individuals in Florida, the state with the second largest shelter problem.