What can be done about homelessness and panhandling? An FAQ


Homelessness, transients, and panhandling are chronic issues facing every city in California and throughout the nation, bringing human misery as well as crime and blight. It is a multi-faceted problem with no easy solutions. The following Frequently Asked Questions addresses some of the most common concerns, legal issues, what cities can and can’t do, what is being done and how you can help.

1. Q: Why doesn’t the City pass a law outlawing panhandling?

A: Numerous court cases have determined that panhandling is a free speech right, protected by the first amendment. Ordinances against general panhandling in many cities have been struck down and cities held financially liable for damages. In 2011 the Redlands City Council passed an ordinance outlawing aggressive panhandling. However, even some ordinances prohibiting aggressive panhandling are under challenge if they do not properly focus on conduct rather than the status of the person and show a reasonable relationship between the prohibition and the conduct being regulated. Learn more about the City’s aggressive panhandling ordinance here: http://www.sterlingcodifiers.com/codebook/index.php?book_id=550

2. Q: Can the police enforce laws against panhandling in specific locations such as downtown, freeway on- and off-ramps, medians, store fronts, banks, and ATMs?

A: Panhandling, other than aggressive panhandling, is a constitutionally protected right. However, the City adopted an ordinance that prohibits panhandling in some specific areas as a matter of public safety, consistent with court rulings. Those areas include banks, ATMs, medians and soliciting drivers entering or exiting their vehicles in a parking lot.  Panhandling is also prohibited, with some exemptions, in any public parking lot or structure between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.. California Vehicle Code also prohibits soliciting on freeway on- and off-ramps.

3. Q: The City has an anti-camping ordinance? Why are the homeless allowed to set up tent camps alongside roads, trails, and freeway off-ramps, in parks, vacant lots and in areas such as the Santa Ana River Wash?

A: Court rulings have held that when enforcing camping ordinances on public property, cities must be able to identify that there is an available place to sleep before issuing citations. If a bed is available and the person is unwilling to accept it, officers may cite them. Redlands does not currently have regular shelter options. When on private property, officers need the property owners to make the decision to have transients removed and cover costs of cleanup. Areas under other agency jurisdiction (such as Cal Trans, Bureau of Land Management, and County Flood Control) are the responsibility of those entities. Learn more about the City’s camping ordinance here: http://www.sterlingcodifiers.com/codebook/index.php?book_id=550

4. Q: Why does it take so long to eliminate homeless encampments once they are reported?

A: Police have limited resources and prioritize all calls for service and projects. Case law requires officers to give transients due process to remove their property. That includes posting a courtesy “72 Hour Notice” to vacate the location. This gives adequate time for the removal of personal belongings.  If police must remove ‘personal’ property, then found property laws require officers to collect, inventory and hold the property securely for 90 days.  Cities have been held liable for damages when they fail to comply with the court’s due process requirements.http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/05/local/la-me-0906-homeless-lapd-20120906

5. Q: Why aren’t transients arrested for stealing shopping carts?

A: If a store is willing to press charges police can arrest/cite for petty theft, if officers can prove the person stole the shopping cart. Frequently the businesses prefer to just get their cart back without pressing charges because of the time it takes to file a report and go to court to testify.  A City ordinance also allows the City to remove and store abandoned shopping carts at the cart owner’s expense. Many transients are now using strollers or rolling suitcases as they cannot be forced to give up their personal property.  

6. Q: What is the role of state legislation in increasing the homeless population?

A: State legislation and federal court rulings, especially AB 109 and Propositions 47 and 57, have exacerbated some of the problems communities face associated with homelessness through early release of prisoners and changes in how individuals may be held accountable for certain “low-level” crimes. While the laws are promoted as public safety measures, often people are being released into communities without rehabilitation or employment. Parolees are released back to the county where their offense was committed but without supervision. Legislation also pushes responsibility for incarceration down to the county facilities. The County jails that are at capacity have ceased accepting or holding individuals in custody for many “low-level” and nuisance crimes such as burglary, theft, and vandalism. The Legislature has yet to take measures to address problems associated with these laws. 

7. Q: What is the role of social service agencies in attracting the homeless to Redlands?

A: Transients regularly tell police they come to Redlands because of the available services and relative safety of the community. While transients are attracted by short-term services, there are few long-term solutions available to get the homeless into permanent housing or stable employment.

8. Q: Can’t the City use its zoning powers to prohibit the kinds of social service agencies that have attracted the homeless to the City and especially to the downtown?

A: Yes, the City has ordinances in place, with respect to zoning that are quite broad. Zoning changes may be used to determine categories of uses in specified areas, however, consideration must be given that zoning is not used to discriminate solely based on the type of people served. Any zoning change would be a policy matter for the City Council to consider and review.

9. Q: Can the City make it illegal to give money to the homeless?

A: The City cannot make it illegal to give money.

10. Q: I see homeless people breaking the law (buying, selling, using drugs; vandalizing property or defecating; aggressively panhandling) but when I report it the police don’t do anything.  

A: Redlands Police will always respond and hold people accountable when they are breaking the law. However, every call is prioritized and responded to, based on its priority.  In addition, while police can make felony arrests based on witness statements, evidence and an investigation, the law requires that an officer witness a misdemeanor before issuing a citation. Citizens may make a Citizen’s Arrest based on illegal behavior they observe that falls within the elements of a misdemeanor crime, but many residents are unwilling to do so. In such cases, in the absence of an outstanding warrant or other circumstances, officers may only counsel the individuals regarding the law to encourage compliance.

11. Q: Is the problem a shortage of police officers?

A: We can always benefit from more police officers, and the City has added officers to the department in each of the past several years. Being homeless is not a crime and we will never be able to arrest our way out of homelessness.

12. Q: Why is the problem so much worse in Redlands? Other cities don’t have this problem. Is it because those cities have tougher laws? Better enforcement?

A: In frequent discussions with chiefs of police, other law enforcement agencies in surrounding areas and throughout the state, they, too, are facing an increase in their homeless population.

Climate, the availability of services and the relative safety of the community all play a part in attracting transients to Redlands; however, every city in San Bernardino County is seeing increases in homelessness.

We have not found a city that has done anything more substantive than what Redlands is doing. The Redlands Police Department is continuously instituting new programs that recognize the need to address the homeless problems that surface within the City.

13. Q: Are other cities busing their transients to Redlands? Why don’t we put the transients on a bus and send them back?

A: We are in regular communication with the chiefs of all the surrounding agencies and have no reason to believe other cities are busing transients, who have no connection to Redlands, into the City.  Individuals cannot be forced to leave against their will. If an individual has been found to be ‘stranded’ in our city and may be subjected to being victimized or becoming homeless, resources are available, if they want it, to assist them to reunite with their family. This is done once the proper “proof of residency” vetting process has been verified and the family member’s identity has been confirmed. No city funds are expended on the means of transportation.

14. Q: What mental health services are available for those who are homeless because of mental illness or addiction? Why can’t the homeless be forced to take their medications or undergo treatment?

A: Legally, no one can be forced to take prescription medication or receive treatment. We can only attempt to offer appropriate services to those want help and want to better their quality of life. Connecting them to services is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lengthy process collaborating with other organization such as; local service providers, Office of Homeless Services, and the County Department of Behavioral Health.

15. Q: What can Redlands residents do to address the problem of homelessness?

A: The Redlands Police Department encourages the citizens and businesses of Redlands to participate in the Positive Change, Not Spare Change program. Residents are asked not to provide money or any other goods of value directly to panhandlers, which only encourages more panhandling.  Residents who wish to contribute to help the homeless are asked to donate to established service providers. Research has been done and it has been revealed that a large percentage of transients use the money they solicit on drugs and alcohol.

Community members and local service providers are welcome to attend the Redlands Charitable Resource Coalition (RCRC) meetings held on the second Tuesday of every month at 3 pm. Meetings are held at City Hall, located at 35 Cajon St. The Redlands Charitable Resource Coalition (RCRC) is comprised of non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, and concerned citizens who have come together to help the homeless population and people in crisis in our community. More information about the RCRC and resource providers can be found on their website atwww.rcrchelp.com.

Residents are also encouraged to report all suspicious or illegal behavior to police immediately and provide police with as complete and accurate a description as possible. This information assists the police in determining how to best deploy resources. Residents should also be willing to press charges when they witness or are a victim of low-level offenses so that those responsible will be held accountable.

Business owners and managers should work with the Police Department to implement “target hardening” strategies to secure their businesses against many of the issues associated with transients. Target hardening strategies can include locking trash bins and gates. Avoid feeding the homeless and installing adequate lighting.     

Homeless Programs and resources in the City of Redlands

Homeless Outreach Program (COP)

On January 1, 2018 the Redlands Police Department launched a new program called the Homeless Outreach Program COP.  In order to gain control of the vast growing rate of homelessness throughout the county and state, it is important to address our own homeless population in the City of Redlands. This has resulted in the creation of a new position, the department’s first Community Outreach Coordinator.

Community Outreach Coordinator

The role of the Outreach Coordinator is to work in close conjunction with Community Policing Officers, Redlands Charitable Resource Coalition, local and county service providers, and faith-based organizations. The mission is to seek positive, long-term solutions to help provide the proper resources for the Redlands homeless population.

Community Policing

The Redlands Police Department has a police officer that is assigned to the downtown area who works closely with the Community Outreach Coordinator to find resolutions for the chronic law enforcement issues associated with individuals who are homeless or mentally ill.

  • Dedicated downtown parks worker for the State Street area as well as Civic Center, Redlands Mall, Orange Street, and Gateway freeway frontage. Maintains the area and reports issues to the police.
  • Regularly scheduled sweeping and power washing on State Street, three days a week.
  • Dedicated electric sidewalk sweeper conducts regular sweeping in the downtown.
  • Two attendants dedicated to the downtown area are contracted to report issues created by transients and loitering.
  • $4.2 million City investment in downtown since 2007 with additional projects underway.

Updated Dec. 4, 2019