Councilman Brian Pepin Takes Action to Stop Homeless Encampments in Poway

Pepin’s Ordinance Prohibits Homeless Encampments in Parks, Creeks & Other Public Places

Brian Pepin, a Poway father-of-three recently elected to the Poway City Council, passed a critically important piece of legislation Tuesday; his first as a member of the city council. The ordinance, which passed unanimously, tackles the community’s growing homeless problem by prohibiting encampments in the City of Poway.

Parents with children at Meadowbrook Middle School reached out to Pepin in April with concerns about an increasing amount of homeless men camping, drinking, and disrupting an area of Pomerado Road next to Meadowbrook Middle School. Within weeks of the meeting, Pepin had worked with Mayor Steve Vaus and the City of Poway to draft an ordinance to strengthen Poway’s laws against camping in public places, including camping on city streets in trailers and RVs.

The proposed ordinance, which modifies the Poway Municipal Code, aims to protect the community’s ability to use parks, streets, parking lots, sidewalks, and other public areas. It acknowledges that “camping and the storage of personal property in these spaces can pose public health and safety hazards while adversely impacting neighborhoods and commercial areas.”

Councilman Pepin, along with Mayor Vaus, initiated this proactive solution to safeguard Poway’s public spaces before more significant problems arise in the future. Recognizing the likely increase in camping activities due to neighboring cities’ efforts to abate homelessness, Pepin and Vaus recognized the urgency of implementing a measure to maintain the cleanliness, sanitation, safety, and accessibility of public areas.

In drafting the proposed ordinance, Councilman Pepin and city staff sought to provide the city and law enforcement with the necessary tools to effectively address camping on publicly owned property within the limits of the law. The Sheriff’s Department has reviewed and approved the proposed ordinance, indicating its potential for successful implementation.

Importantly, the proposed ordinance aligns with recent legal developments, such as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Martin v. City of Boise case. This decision clarified that while municipalities cannot completely prohibit sleeping outside when no shelter is practically available, they still retain the authority to regulate camping and sleeping in public spaces. The proposed ordinance strikes a balance by prohibiting camping and storage of personal property in public areas, while ensuring that individuals are offered available shelter space before enforcement actions are taken.

Councilman Pepin’s focus on the safety and well-being of Poway’s residents, particularly school children, is evident in the proposed ordinance. By allowing the Sheriff’s Department to abate unlawful encampments with 24 hours’ notice, risks to public health and safety can be minimized. The ordinance also includes provisions for notice requirements, property inventory, and recovery processes to ensure that the city can effectively regulate its property and other public or private spaces.

It is worth noting that Councilman Pepin’s approach prioritizes offering resources to individuals experiencing homelessness over enforcement actions. The ordinance enables the Sheriffs Department to abate public nuisance camping only when encampments are unoccupied or involve individuals who refuse the resources offered to them.

Furthermore, the proposed ordinance addresses the issue of sitting or lying on public sidewalks in a manner that obstructs pedestrians or blocks vehicular traffic. By prohibiting such behavior, Councilman Pepin aims to maintain the accessibility and functionality of public sidewalks for all residents.

Pepin concluded his comments at Tuesday’s City Council meeting by thanking the parents who had initially reached out about this issue, stating, “This is how local government is supposed to work: in a quick, responsive and efficient way.”

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