Senate Bill 876- Homelessness


Senate Bill- 876 entitled “Homelessness” was introduced by Senator Liu on January 14, 2016. If passed, this bill will amend the Government Code to allow homeless individuals to dwell or sleep in public spaces without risk of criminal or civil sanction. The long term implications of this bill do not seem favorable to local government and impede local authority to regulate issues affecting public health and safety. For this reason, many local governments believe this bill should not be passed.


Generally, cities have authority to prohibit persons from impeding public right of ways, i.e. benches, sidewalks, and streets under the police power set forth in Article 11, Section 7 of the California Constitution. If passed, SB 876 would preempt local authority to address important issues affecting public health and safety in public spaces and on private property that is held open to the public. Under the umbrella of preventing discrimination to homeless persons, this act would prohibit local law enforcement from citing homeless persons sleeping in public spaces “including, but not limited to plazas, courtyards, parking lots, sidewalks, public transportation facilities, public buildings, shopping centers, and parks.”[1] The bill states “Persons experiencing homelessness shall be permitted to use public space in the ways described in this section at any time that the public space is open to the public without discrimination based upon their housing status, and without being subject to criminal, civil or administrative penalties.”[2] The bill effectively removes local authority to regulate these activities and removes the legal consequences if homeless persons do not use shelter services or arrange for safer and more sustainable living conditions.

While the bill specifically states, “[p]assing this Act will not reduce homelessness, but neither will local ordinances that criminalize homelessness,” The bill’s author appears  to assume that local enforcement authorities are criminalizing homelessness rather than providing resources and opportunities to get them off the street. In reality, many cities and counties that have chronic homelessness problems have been and are continuing to develop connections with shelters, mental health liaisons, transportation companies, and various other resources in an effort to address and end homelessness.


SB 876 appears to be motivated by good intentions. However, as the bill is currently written, it will have the effect of usurping the ability of local authorities to protect the general public by removing the authority to enforce state and local regulations governing conduct in public places. Should the City wish to submit a letter opposing SB 876, please go to