City, police try smoking ban to banish Monterey’s “dirty folks.”
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Mackenzie Friday’s been hanging out at downtown Monterey’s Griffin Plaza for a decade, and has witnessed firsthand the explosion in the homeless and transient populations that flocks to the plaza’s patio furniture, shade trees and open space.
“The more they showed up, the less fun it got,” says Friday, 22. He appreciates the city’s search for solutions, but thinks its approach, including a city-enacted ban on smoking in the plaza that took effect last week, is “bullshit.”
“I smoke, and I’m not a transient,” Friday says. He thinks the ban could hurt business at East Village, the plaza’s popular coffee shop. But others think the ban is the best bet for cracking down on transients – or at least shooing them to another part of town.
Monterey Police Department spokesperson Leslie Sonne says MPD has ramped up its patrol efforts in recent months due to complaints from businesses bordering the plaza and a request from City Manager Fred Meurer. But officers’ enforcement options are limited.
“The problem with homelessness is, it’s not a crime,” Sonne says.
The city doesn’t have a sit-lie ordinance, which prohibits sitting or lying on the sidewalks or public space. Patrol officers can only act on smoking, drinking or blatant law-breaking, like public urination.
“The transient problem’s gotten worse,” says Dean McAthie, who owns East Village and recently installed a spotlight above his shop’s entrance to deter street kids from loitering at night.
This year’s Monterey County Homeless Census showed a sharp increase in homelessness among people between 18 and 30 years old since 2007. One-third of the homeless youth survey respondents reported job loss as the primary cause of their homelessness.
Jim Casey, who manages East Village’s next-door neighbor, Aquarian Bicycles, says he noticed changes in clientele since the plaza’s homeless population spiked this past summer.
“The dirty nature of the folks out there prevents families with kids from coming in here,” Casey says.
But the loitering youths aren’t all bad, Harlan Graves says.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” says Graves, a plaza regular who’s currently couch-surfing and has been homeless on and off for years. “You see someone who’s got dreadlocks and a dog and a big pack, it doesn’t mean he’s causing any trouble.”
Down the street at Safe Place, a day center for homeless youth 21 and under, counselor Vincent Delgado provides food and advice. He tries to encourage positive interactions between business owners and the center’s clients, but there’s only so much he can do: “After 5 or 6pm, we’ve got to tell them to go somewhere else.”
Shelters for teens and young adults are scarce on the Peninsula; the county’s prominent social service agencies have a larger presence in Salinas. Many youth wind up at Griffin Plaza before sleeping on the streets.
Sonne’s realistic about the cyclical nature of homelessness: “They’ll show up somewhere else next week.”