E-Mail Forum
The Camping Ordinance - Not So Scroogey After All?
December 23, 2001
After being thoroughly pilloried by the Bay Area press and various advocates for the homeless and being awarded the seasonal "scrooge" award by same, I would like to provide my own perspective on the Richmond "camping" ordinance.

Contrary to some accusers, this ordinance was not planned to coincide with Christmas. It began with complaints from a number of Richmond residents nearly a year ago who felt that their use of public streets and parks was being adversely impacted by people who were making those same streets and parks their homes - and in the process engaging in activities that were a threat to public safety and health.

As a member of the Public Safety and Public Services Committee of the Richmond City Council, I participated in several meetings where the public was invited and social and health service professionals also participated. During the course of those hearings, which concluded only in October, we found out several things:

  • The police told us that not all persons camping on public property were causing health and safety problems, but that for those who were, additional legislation was needed to provide the police with the legal tools to deal with those problems. From this need was born the "camping" ordinance.
  • The Contra Costa County Department of Health Services, which operates the County homeless programs, told us that, historically, the County has provided the majority of the funding for emergency shelters for single adults, with some cities providing funding through Community Development Block Grant public service dollars. Richmond has provided no funding previously. There is a shelter in Concord with 75 beds and a shelter in Richmond with 100 beds, but only 75 operating due to a funding shortfall. In the year 200-2001, Contra Costa County served 795 clients. Of this number, 46% reported their last place of permanent residence as Richmond (14% in Concord and 86% in Richmond).
  • Not all campers are "homeless," in the traditional sense. Some people simply choose to live in recreational vehicles and find public parks to be convenient and safe places to park overnight, often with a magnificent view.
  • The problem of the true "homeless" is complex and at least regional, if not national, in nature. Homeless people include those suffering from mental and physical illness and drug abuse as well as those who are otherwise healthy but find themselves jobless, penniless and friendless. Some will not accept treatment, shelter or transition services when offered. Others will jump at the chance. Many believe that, in California, the problem dated from the time Reagan closed the state mental hospitals. In Richmond, the location and timing of the current high profile homelessness dates roughly from the time Albany evicted the "bulb people" from its waterfront park.

As discussion of the ordinance and of the related problems neared fruition, it became clear that Richmond had neither the resources nor the ability to solve a regional problem. We could have avoided a lot of negative publicity and done nothing. The status quo would have been the easy way out of this one.

But we didn't. We (the City Council) took some bold and positive steps:

  • We fully funded the remaining beds at he County Brookside Shelter. The city manager just told us that they have already been opened.
  • We directed that the police accompany any enforcement with supporting services.
  • We are going to work with Contra Costa County to provide a safe and sanitary parking area for homeless people living in vehicles.
  • We will work with Contra Costa County on a transitional housing project for homeless families.
  • We reduced the penalties in the camping ordinance to infractions, the same as parking ticket.
  • We will conduct a "homeless summit" in the spring of 2002 to update these initiatives and look at others.

We also passed a camping ordinance, which is much less draconian than reported. For a full copy of the ordinance and the mitigating measures directed by the City Council, see http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/Flash/Government/Ordinancepage.html . The ordinance does not, as one critic groused, make it illegal to carry a sleeping bag in public.

Again, contrary to popular belief (especially in the press), Richmond probably does more, per capita, for homeless than any city in the Bay Area. For information on various programs. See:

There are also other organizations such as these providing vital services for people who find themselves homeless in Richmond,

Most people in Richmond are not callous toward the homeless, and they participate generously with their gifts and their service in supporting these non-profit providers of services to the homeless and the needy. Instead of criticizing the Richmond City Council for taking action, how about taking action yourself by picking up the phone and calling GRIP at (510) 231-6884 or the Bay Area Rescue Mission at (510)215-4555 to find out how you can help by sending a check or pitching in this holiday season, or anytime.

Merry Christmas!