MISSION VIEJO — The City Council recently made a number of changes to items in its municipal code, but a complete re-write of a no-camping law led lawyers and homeless advocates to question whether the city is trying to criminalize the homeless.
The new ordinance makes it illegal to sleep overnight in public places, whether in a vehicle or not. The previous law pertained to camping or sleeping overnight in vehicles or trailers between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
City Attorney Bill Curley said the changes were part of a code cleanup process that took place during the City Council’s summer break.
But at the Sept. 12 meeting, some said they believe the law could will hurt members of the homeless community.
“Criminalizing the homeless is not the way to go,” said Staycie Sena, a criminal defense attorney and Mission Viejo resident. “Someone gets a citation, you may only see a $350 penalty, but…first they have to figure out how to get to court, so they’re probably going to miss their court date and a civil assessment is going to attach to that, so that will probably bring it to $1,000.”
She added that a failure to appear violation will bring up a criminal charge, which could then lead to a warrant for arrest.
Curley said the ordinance would not affect the city’s homeless and that local law enforcement and his attorneys know that no one is to be cited, run off, taken away or have their goods taken.
“We don’t cite true homeless,” Curley said. “If you roll in here for a three-day soccer tournament and camp out in your Winnebago, yes, we do (enforce the law).”
He said the city hasn’t had a problem in the past.
“If someone is homeless, they know to call me before anything is done,” he said. “If we can’t find something reasonable as an alternative housing, we leave people alone. That’s how it works.”
Ugochi Anaebere-Nicholson, an attorney with the Public Law Center, said she was concerned about individuals subjected to the ordinance if they leave their property behind because there is no mention about community members getting their property back.
“They would be at risk of losing it without any due process protections they are entitled to receive before the proposed loss of their property,” she said.
But Robert Breton, a former mayor in Mission Viejo, said the city has “consistently demonstrated a deep concern for the homeless and has proactively sought ways to identify the homeless and alleviate their…