CA Senate: You May Not Sleep in Your Car

On Monday, August 31, the California Senate rejected Assembly Bill 718, which would have made established the legality of sleeping in one’s own vehicle. Ultimately, AB 718 received a majority of participating votes, but failed to reach the two thirds threshold required to pass such a law.

Within the Bay Area, the bill was opposed by Senators Steven Glazer (District 7, Contra Costa and Alameda Counties), Mike McGuire (District 2, Marin County), and Lois Wolk (District 3, Napa, Solano, and Yolo Counties). Senators Mark Leno of San Francisco and Loni Hancock of Alameda County were among the supporters of the bill.

The bill had passed on the Assembly floor in June, with a 56–19 majority.

At present, three quarters of California cities make it a crime to sleep in one’s own vehicle. San Francisco has multiple laws prohibiting vehicular dwelling, and the Municipal Transportation Agency regularly expands area-specific prohibitions meant to penalize homeless people who have not yet been caught in the act of sleeping.

The official San Francisco Homeless Count does not provide separate numbers for individuals and families living in vehicles. The survey associated with the Count found that 4% of respondents were living in their vehicles at the time of the Count. As the survey overrepresents people who access services, it’s possible that this percentage is low.

AB 718 is the second major homeless civil rights bill to have been rejected by the California legislature this year, following on the Right to Rest Act, Senate Bill 608, which would have protected people’s right to sleep regardless of housing status.

While the state legislature is slow to come to the side of justice, the Federal government has begun to take increasingly bold steps to assert the rights of poorer people in the US. In the past month, the US Department of Justice issued a brief in which it holds that laws banning sleeping and camping for homeless people in municipalities that do not have adequate shelter beds is a violation of homeless people’s Eighth Amendment rights.