Santa Rosa City Council approves tougher initiative that could impact homeless

- While the number of homeless people in Santa Rosa has gone down the past few years, many people, including downtown business owners, say the problems associated with life on the streets have increased.

"The problem is when you have urination or defecation, people sleeping in doorways, it is not good for business, building owners or the public that goes downtown," said Michael Hyman, a downtown building owner.

In an effort to change such behavior, the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday night issued a new, and tougher directive.

Police now have the discretion to treat quality of life crimes such as drinking or urinating in public as misdemeanors.

That could mean fines, or even jail. Before, police treated them as mere infractions and issuing citations.

"We were finding that with infractions alone, it was not changing behavior." said city councilman and retired Santa Rosa police chief Tom Schwedhelm. 

"If it is a misdemeanor the officer has to believe it is going to re-occur if I don't do an additional enforcement action," he said,

The idea, he says is not to put homeless people in jail, but be able to better direct them toward using he variety of homeless services the city offers.

"We're not interested in criminalizing homelessness. We're interested in getting the services they need to end homelessness," said Schwedhelm.

Homeless people we spoke with say it won't work.

"I want to get help. But that doesn't mean i want to get a misdemeanor and go to jail," said Sherry Lindsay, a homeless woman.

One man says he lost his job when he became sick. Now he is living in shelter with his wife and four children.

He worries they may end up on the street, and then arrested for not beng able to find a bathroom.

"You can see there are not a lot of restrooms people can use," he said. 

No one is saying the new directive will help solve homelessness. But at best, supporters argue, this will help make Santa Rosa cleaner, healthier and perhaps safer for everyone.

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