Welcome to Divine Spark's website!

We provide support & guidance for people in-need without regard to gender, race, creed, age, or calling to activate the divine spark within each of them. We offer a Weekly Meal Program, allocation of donated Motor Vehicles & Bicycles, Pet Food & Veterinarian Care, Legal & Job Referral Help, and Meal/Food Vouchers are just a part of the assistance we provide. Here's the latest happenings...

Sunday Morning Meal & Voucher Program

Once a week Divine Spark and volunteers offer a prepared meal from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon on Sunday mornings at the front steps of the Divine Spark office at 308 Main Street in Nevada City. Food Vouchers, which has been donated from local merchants & eateries for meals, are offered to the hungry as well. Gently-used clothing, and dog food for Pets, is also available.

Click on a thumbnail image for a larger view...

American Hunger, by the Numbers

By Tracie McMillan
17 July 2014
Civil Eats

As I report in next month’s National Geographic feature, “The New Face of Hunger,” millions of American families are struggling with a new kind of hunger. Some of the increase can be traced to a change in definition; in the 1960s, America equated hunger with physical starvation. By the 2000s, though, researchers started asking whether people were skipping meals because they couldn’t afford to eat, coining the term “food insecurity” to replace hunger. And with wages stagnating and public support of commodity crops far exceeding that for produce, the number of food insecure Americans now far outstrips the number of those who were ever counted as “hungry.” But don’t take my word for it: The numbers speak for themselves.


• Millions of people hungry in the U.S. in 1968   10

• Millions of people food insecure in the U.S. in 2012   49

• Ratio of hungry Americans to fed in 1968   1:20

• Ratio of food insecure Americans to fed in 2012    1:6


• Share of American children who receive food assistance by age 20   1:2 

• Percent of food insecure households who were white in 2012   53

• Percent of food insecure households who were black in 2012   21

• Percent increase in suburban food stamp use from 2007 to 2012   200


• Percent decrease in inflation-adjusted federal minimum wage since 1968    34 

• Percent of food-insecure households with at least one full- or part-time worker    75

• Share of food-insecure households that did not receive public food assistance in 2012    2:5


• Percent of USDA budget spent on food and nutrition programs    72

• Maximum per-meal food stamp benefit, in dollars, for a single person   2.38

• Per-meal increase, in dollars per addition person, for food stamp benefits    1.79


• Percent of USDA budget spent on agricultural subsidies   16 

• Billions of dollars in federal funding spent to subsidize commodity crops in 2012    10.8 

• Billions of dollars in federal funding spent to subsidize fruits and vegetables in 2011   1.6

• Ratio of federal funding for commodity crops to fruits and vegetables   7:1

• Approximate ratio of recommended consumption of grains to that for fruits and vegetables   1:2

• Percentage increase in price of fruits and vegetables since 1980s 24

• Percentage decrease in price of sweetened beverages since 1980s  27

• Percentage drop in time spent cooking by working and non-working low-income women 35

• Percent of monthly food budget spent to cook at home by poorest American households: 70

• Percent of monthly food budget spent to cook at home by richest American households: 50

Tracie McMillan is the author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and a Koeppel Journalism Fellow at Wesleyan University. You can follow her on Twitter at @TMMcMillan

Bus becomes mobile shower for San Francisco’s homeless

The money to refurbish the bus came from private donations, including Google, whose employee buses in San Francisco have attracted protesters who view them as a symbol of economic inequality and gentrification.
by Haven Daley
The Associated Press
Originally published Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 5:49 PM
from The Seattle Times

SAN FRANCISCO — A nonprofit group is taking a novel approach to helping the homeless in San Francisco with a new bus that allows them to take a shower.

The former public-transit bus has been outfitted with two full private bathrooms and offers hot showers, clean toilets, shampoo, soap and towels free of charge.

The founder of the nonprofit Lava Mae mobile shower bus said she wanted to return dignity to those living on the streets.

“If you’re homeless, you’re living on the streets and you’re filthy, you’re trying to improve your circumstances, but you can’t interview for a job, you can’t apply for housing and you get disconnected from your sense of humanity,” Doniece Sandoval said. “So a shower just in of itself is amazing for people.”

Lava Mae says the bus can go to homeless people scattered throughout the city. And having a facility on wheels eliminates the potential for rent hikes and evictions in a city with high real-estate prices.

A homeless survey in 2013 counted more than 6,400 homeless people in the city.

San Francisco officials are testing a similar mobile toilet program in the struggling Tenderloin district, where complaints about human waste are common. The toilets will be available at three locations from 2 p.m. through 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, then removed and taken off site to be cleaned, the city’s public-works department said.

The $75,000 cost to refurbish the Lava Mae bus was provided by private donations, including from technology giant Google, whose employee buses in San Francisco have attracted protesters who view them as a symbol of economic inequality and gentrification. The city allows Lava Mae to use fire hydrants for water.

Ralph Brown, 55, a military veteran who has been homeless for about a year, took a shower on Lava Mae’s bus on its first day of service last month. It was his first shower in several days.

“When people move away from you on the bus, it’s time to take a shower,” he said.

Some homeless shelters in the city have showers, but they can have long waits. The Lava Mae bus also provides relaxing music.

“Being inside there is kind of a trip because it’s pretty high-tech and kind of ingenious,” Brown said. “Basically, I just feel a lot better.”

Sandoval said that’s the reaction she sees from many people who use the bus.

“Their faces are just beaming,” she said. “They’re so incredibly grateful. It’s a great feeling to just be able to offer people something so simple and yet so vital,” she said.

Cost Of Military Jet Could House Every Homeless Person In U.S. With $600,000 Home

By Robbie Couch
11 July 2014, 8:40 am EDT
The Huffington Post

A cleaner (R) sweeps the floor next to a replica of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet at the exhibition centre ahead of the Singapore's Airshow on February 9, 2014. Asia's top aerospace and defence show opens on February 11 in Singapore with major global arms makers seeking to cash in on rising military spending as territorial disputes escalate in the region. AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN via Getty Images

It's no news that a large portion of our federal tax dollars goes towards defense spending. But your jaw might drop at the cost of the newest jet manufactured by the U.S. military, and just how much good could have been achieved domestically with the same price tag.

The $400 billion program to create a fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, which, as The Hill points out, is seven years behind schedule and chronically plagued with misfortunes and incompetencies, could have housed every homeless person in the U.S. with a $600,000 home.

The staggering fact, configured by Think Progress, is just one of several figures the news source put into perspective for taxpayers. For example, the amount spent per year to build the F-35 jets could easily fulfill a $16.7 billion request by the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs to save countless lives from preventable causes around the world — and then have enough left over to fund UNICEF's budget request, too. The full cost of the jets program could also fund the National School Lunch Program, which feeds about 31 million students annually, for the next 24 years.

The mind-boggling cost for a fleet of F-35 jets exemplifies what Steven Conn would consider a military budget that doesn't have much of a positive impact on everyday Americans.

"Spending our taxes on the military doesn't yield much to make our lives or our communities better," Conn, a professor and Director of the Public History Program at Ohio State University, wrote on a HuffPost blog in April. "Big weapons systems and overseas military installations, to say nothing of feckless military adventures in Vietnam or Iraq, have done very little to fix our roads, improve our kids' education, or push the boundaries of medical research."

According to data provided by the Office of Management and Budget, the federal government spent roughly 19 times more on defense and international security assistance than it did on education in 2013. A graph created by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation illustrates that the U.S. spends more on defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the U.K., Germany, Japan and India combined.

The Gold Country Gleaners are Collecting and Donating Produce

by Hilary Hodge, Gold Country Gleaners
Published on 14 July 2014

The Gold Country Gleaners, an all-volunteer organization that pairs resources of excess food with people in need, had to hit the ground running this year. With the warmer-than-usual spring, many farmers and gardeners have seen a bumper crop early in the season. The Gold Country Gleaners are already picking up food from farms and delivering it to local food pantries and non-profit organizations that help those in need in Nevada County.

The Gold Country Gleaners in Nevada County is dedicated to feeding the hungry with local food resources. "The Gleaners", as they are often called, coordinate people who are willing to pick food with people who have fruits and vegetables to donate. Farmers, ranchers, and even individuals with a single tree or just a few extra zucchini plants are welcome to participate. The Gleaners will pick extra produce and donate the food to local organizations that support the hungry. Those organizations include The Food Bank, Women of Worth, The Salvation Army, Interfaith Food Ministry, the San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center, and more.

"We are used to working seasonally and donating whatever is in season," says Hilary Hodge, one of the core volunteers and pick leaders for the Gold Country Gleaners. "But this year is going to be interesting. We are already seeing donations of squash, something that usually comes later in the summer. I'm worried that this remarkably hot and dry year will be hard on food resources in Nevada County, especially toward the end of summer and into fall." Hodge has been a Gleaners volunteer and core member since she moved to Nevada County three years ago.

The Gleaners have donated nearly a ton of fruits and vegetables already this year but the need for donations is always present and growing. Most of the recipient organizations that the Gleaners donate to have been working to expand their scope. Women of Worth, which receives boxes of vegetables every week in the summer from the Gleaners, courtesy of Mountain Bounty Farm, is now serving more women and children than ever. The Interfaith Food Ministry, another donation drop-off for the Gleaners, moved to a new location this year, has more clients now than last year. The Gold Country Gleaners have relied on local farmers and gardeners, whose generosity has exceeded expectations in past years.

"We are very grateful to Hilary and the Gleaners for taking our extra produce and making sure it goes to people who need it," says Mountain Bounty Farm's John Tecklin. "As the largest vegetable farm in Nevada County, we generate a lot of extra produce. The Gleaners have arrived at our farm every week for the past 3-4 years, taking on the huge task of distributing all that food."

The Gleaners have a strong volunteer base and can serve almost every corner of Nevada County. To arrange a pick or to get more information, please call the Gold Country Gleaners at (530) 264-8680 or email goldcountrygleaners@gmail.com.

Divine Spark Wishes to Thank the Community for All of the Wonderful Support it has Received to Make this Past Year Shine

A Letter of Thanks from Our Executive Director

...AS I REFLECT on this past year and on the passing of Thomas Streicher, the founder of Divine Spark, I feel a sense of deep loss and grief. Not only did he leave us with the blessing of his creation, Divine Spark – a non-profit serving the disenfranchised, he also left us the blueprint of service with love, compassion, and non-judgment. This journey has served to deepen mine, and others connections to that very Divine Spark that can be found within ourselves and in each other. It has been a healing journey to continue his life's work and to stay connected to Thomas's presence which lives on in the work of coming together in community to help those in need. The Board of Divine Spark would like to give thanks to all the volunteers and community members that enabled Divine Spark to continue in helping those in need in our community. Since the tragic death of Thomas Streicher many people have come forward to keep his work alive. So many volunteers are helping to sustain this environment of sharing, thus forming community. Special thanks go out to Law Offices of Haley & Bilheimer, B&C Home Center, SPD Markets, Save Mart Supermarkets, BriarPatch Co-op. We thank Jim Bell, Stephanie and Quique Barletta for their on-going support along with the many people who have handed me an envelope of cash donations --wishing to remain anonymous. We are grateful for the participation of local restaurants involving themselves in our voucher program -- Subway, SPD Markets, Save Mart Supermarkets, Fudenjüce, California Organics, and The Fix.


Sunday Morning Meal at Divine SparkA BIG THANKS to volunteers who came with food on Sundays, bringing clothing, and who continue to lend support for those in need. BRAVO to Gregory and Dave for consistently being there; helping with donations, and in all facets of setup and take down. THANK YOU to Shiloh for your contribution of organizing clothing and helping in so many ways and Lenora for her many contributions, Pete for helping to pick up donations from SPD and Save Mart, Lee Pope for jumping in and organizing the donated hot meals each week, Roger for his ongoing support and donations, and all the volunteers who show up with food, sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and a helping hand. MANY THANKS to Paul Emery for producing our very successful fundraiser and Concert in October, all the musicians who donated their time and energy, and to Dale Smith for his photographs of Dylan that were raffled off and for his creative efforts in Dylan Concert posters, and invitations to the Christmas Dinner.


THE DIVINE SPARK CHRISTMAS DINNER at the Stone House in Nevada City was indeed special with the help of so many; THANK YOU to Nikko who entrusted us with her beautiful building; Maria who organized the Kitchen, prepared the menu and cooked all of the donated food, and her family who donated their time to help create a very special event; those who cooked turkeys; Steve and Debra, Marge, Roger, Alice, Cathy, and to Bob for cooking his special prime rib; the many people who brought their special side dishes; Carol for the donated Christmas Trees, and use of decorations; Magickal Florist for the festive flower donation, and Grass Valley Florist; Prospector's Nursery for the lovely Poinsettias; Flour Garden Bakery for yummy pies and treats; California Organics for the donated food and organic Turkeys; Natural Selection for the donated produce; BriarPatch Co-op for the Turkeys cash coupon; and to SPD Markets for the generous donation of food. A SPECIAL THANKS to Jessee for staying late and mopping the kitchen and dining room floors, and Grogory who was there from beginning to end helping to leave the building sparkling clean. Shirley Kinghorn, Executive DirectorMUSICAL THANKS to Annie McCann, Jeffrey, Lawrence, Mario, Bob and all the musicians that gifted us with their music.


OF GREATEST IMPORTANCE was the experience of warm feelings, love, and camaraderie being shared by and through the people. The Spirit of Christmas remains alive, and well at this annual community event ...A legacy and inspiration for all; with continuing gratitude going out to Divine Spark's founder, Tomas Streicher, whose presence was very much felt. And, finally, thank you to everyone who through their encouragement and support this past year gave me the courage to continue the vital and rewarding work of Divine Spark.

Shirley Kinghorn, Executive Director

'Stunning' Data Proves, Yet Again, Housing The Homeless Would Actually Save Taxpayers Big Time

by Robbie Couch
22 May 2014
Updated: 23 May 2014
The Huffington Post

Letting homeless people sleep on the streets has never made sense morally. Now, more evidence has surfaced showing it doesn't make much sense financially either.

"The numbers are stunning," Andrae Bailey, the CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, told the Orlando Sentinel. "Our community will spend nearly half a billion dollars [on the chronically homeless], and at the end of the decade, these people will still be homeless."

Bailey is referring to numbers recently found by Creative Housing Solutions, which tracked public expenditures on local homeless people in the Central Florida region. Because of costs like frequent emergency room visits, hospital admissions and repeated arrests for homeless-related crimes, the analysis estimated each homeless person costs taxpayers $31,065 each year. To put that into perspective, providing the chronically homeless with permanent housing and case managers to supervise them would be about $10,000 per person each year.

As astounding as those numbers may seem, the data isn't as groundbreaking as you might think.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte released a study in March that found housing chronically homeless adults produced a 78 percent reduction in emergency room costs -- a price tag that would have eventually been passed on to the taxpayer -- the Charlotte Observer reported. The numbers also showed the previously homeless tenants in the study spent 84 percent fewer days in jail, largely due to a decrease in crimes like loitering and begging.

Caroline Chambre, director of HousingWorks for Urban Ministry, which runs permanent housing programs for the homeless, said the study was proof that perceptions of the homeless are not always accurate.

"You can’t argue with the statistics," Chambre had told the Charlotte Observer. "This approach was controversial at one time because of the stereotype of who the homeless are, and we had to change that stereotype."

Volunteers & Donations Needed

Help Divine Spark assist People in need by making a donation of the following:

Motorhome Donations, Too!

The gift of a running vehicle can touch the life of a homeless/houseless person in many positive ways, such as providing basic security and shelter. Your donation of a car, van, or motorhome can also create a greater potential for job opportunities, and the possibility for relocation and/or reunion with friends and family members.

Trish & Skip in front of their donated Home,
December 2011. (click on the image to see a larger view)

A van donation will change someone's Life.
Smaller vehicles ok. Bicycles, too!

A Visual Depiction Of Exactly How Much Food You Waste (VIDEO)

by Sarah Barness
22 April 2014
Updated: 23 April 2014 11:59 am EDT
The Huffington Post

It's easy to love most everything about food -- its nutritional value and the tasty experiences it give us, and the way it bring us all together. But we must take this opportunity to apologize to our food.


For wasting it, squandering it in super markets, offering too much of it and throwing away leftovers and rejecting it for small imperfections.

Every year, Americans throw away nearly half their food, costing the country about $165 billion annually. According to an Natural Resources Defense Council report, an American family of four will end up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.

"Part of the problem is that on average, I spend a smaller fraction of my household budget on you [food] than in any other country or any other time in history," says a food lover in the video above. "…my spending is spread out over days or weeks so I don't notice the cost of wasting you. But my lack of noticing adds up."

Starting now, we must all take personal responsibility to be more mindful of our consumption and waste. If we all did this, perhaps food can eventually accept our collective apology.

13 Food Scrap Uses

1. Corn
With summer corn coming into season, we will all have a ton of corn cobs on our hands. You don't have to throw these away. Use the cobs for a base to make a silky corn soup. The milky "corn juice" comes out of the cobs when you simmer them in a pot and can add a deeper flavor than chicken stock. Try it with this corn chowder recipe.
2. Pickle Juice
If you make homemade pickles, you should know that you can reuse your brine. Once you've eaten up your batch of pickled vegetables, save the juice to throw in new vegetables. It's double the pickles for the same amount of brine.
3. Shrimp
Shrimp peels and tails are great to hold on to. Whether you're looking to make a seafood stew or just a simple tomato soup, they make flavorful stocks. Store them in the freezer and you'll always have something on hand to make a good homemade stock.
4. Potato Chips
When your potato chips lose their crunch, they can still be used to make a great breading for chicken, fish or vegetables. Crumble them up and use them as you would bread crumbs.
5. Broccoli Stems
Most of us use the broccoli florets and throw out the stems, but these stems can be used to make a refreshing summer slaw. Ever notice that the grocery store sells bags of slaw? It's often times made with broccoli stems.
6. Fresh Herbs
More often than not we buy fresh herbs to make a recipe and then leave them to wilt in the fridge. But if you take one additional step you can preserve the fresh flavor of the herbs for later use. Making compound butter with the herbs or freezing them in olive oil to cook with later is a great way to get the most use out of your basil, cilantro or parsley.
7. Bread
Bread is one of those basic ingredients that we almost always have in our kitchens, and we often throw out the last couple of slices that have gone stale. But you don't have to waste them. Use those stale pieces to make croutons or bread crumbs.
8. Wine
If you didn't finish that opened bottle of wine fast enough, you can still use it to cook with. Wine has the ability to enhance dishes with a complexity of flavor. Check out these recipes for some ideas.
9. Vegetable Tops
Just like with the broccoli stems, the green tops of carrots, beets and fennel (as well as other veggies) can be used in recipes too. You can use them to flavor soups, garnish dishes or even in salads.
10. Citrus Peels
Before you eat your oranges or squeeze you lemons, save the peels. They can be used in so many different ways to enhance your dishes. You can air dry the peels to add to meat dishes or make candied peels. You can also pulverize the peels (making sure to remove the white pith) and make orange peel essence -- which you can use to top snacks like popcorn.
11. Cookies
Cookies that have seen better days can be crumbled and saved for making pie crusts. It'll get one you step closer to enjoying a homemade dessert.
12. Potato Peels
If you're inclined to peel your potatoes before you cook them, you can use those peels to make a quick batch of homemade chips.
13. Celery
Just like fresh herbs, celery is another one of those items that many of us buy to make just one recipe and then forget about it in the fridge. Before that happens, chop up the remaining celery and freeze it. Next time you need just a few stalks, you'll have it on hand. (You can apply this to many other vegetables too.)

Volunteerism, Charity...
Going Too Far for the Wrong Reasons
by Cheryl Zellers

Toxic Charity, written by Robert D. Lupton, is a book that offers an alternative to “handouts”, a new perspective, albeit a difficult look into the mainstream techniques that most charities run their services for the ever growing population of indigent and poverty stricken folks. Many of us reading this Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton newsletter pride ourselves in being able to serve, are full of compassion, and do scrapple with the pros and cons of one way charity. Churches, active individuals, non-profits, food banks, and all forms of charities can so easily fall into the blueprint of our nation – to give and not ask for any reciprocation, however simple. This can be damaging to those receiving the handouts when it becomes a chronic system—key word being chronic.

The issue of one-way giving does not include emergency and short term charity, it focuses upon long term and continual handouts and doing for others what they can ultimately be shown how to do for themselves – and isn’t this true freedom? I believe that the aforementioned book deserves a good look—as it offers us a new paradigm in just HOW can we take that giant step from sincere and heartfelt giving that may not be helping in a way that we imagined it might – to effectively empowering those in our care -- in a way that supports them to do for themselves.

I often sing the song, in my head, or sometimes out loud when it may help others see just how capable they are “I can do anything that you can do—better, I can do anything -- better than you.” We are all given the capabilities of striving for equality in all things, whether it be in taking back our civil rights, raising the bar of what we can do to create change for the better, or in taking that first step in truly caring for oneself and others. Sometimes our lives take a turn down a road or lead us on a journey that may render us incapable of living the life that we had before, or one that we had merely dreamed of living. We must remember that circumstances and timing have so much to do with all things effecting change.

While it is true that we are responsible for each other, we must be careful to do our kind and charitable acts in a way that is supportive to the growth of each individual that we serve. It would be a shame to serve for reasons that aggrandize our own egos, put us in positions that gives us a sense of false power, or that instills a sense of hierarchy between us.

Gratitude Bowls Feed Body & Soul

by Diana Pasquini
San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center
April 2014 Newsletter

Stormy May

Made from excess food and simple ingredients, Gratitude Bowls are meals that are prepared at local restaurants and made available for free to people in need. Participating restaurants are reimbursed by fundraising efforts so that they can continue to buy, prepare, and serve nourishing food in our community. Gratitude Bowls founder Stormy May (pictured right) explained that the inspiration for this project evolved from her love of horses. “I work with horses. I spent many years training horses for sport and pleasure and eventually realized that the horses were being harmed by riding and training. I spent a few years promoting the idea of a sanctuary for horses so that they could live more natural lives, not controlled by humans, except for what's absolutely necessary for their safety and health. I tried to promote this way of being with horses. Then I realized that human consciousness would need to change. In a more peaceful world we would not be forcing horses to do what we want. The breakthrough came when I realized that I needed to help humans. If people feel cared for, they care for others and realize the kinship between all living things.”

Matteos Public with Gratitude Bowls

Believing that the elimination of the fear of hunger by “providing a bowl of good food when needed” would help achieve her vision of a kinder world, Stormy “searched my mind to find a niche that hadn't been explored.” She realized that restaurants were “the perfect places to do this because they already have the ovens, the chefs, and the food.” As a result of her efforts, two Nevada County eateries now provide Gratitude Bowls to those who are in need of a meal. Participating restaurants are the Ridge Café in North San Juan, and Matteo's Public in Nevada City with other restaurants planning to start serving Gratitude Bowls in the coming months.

Those who wish to help support Gratitude Bowls will find prominently displayed donation boxes in each of the participating restaurants. Diners are encouraged to contribute any amount to help cover the additional costs of feeding the hungry. Stormy May is firm in her resolve. “We live in an abundant world and are channeling this into feeding people. We value kindness over money.”

If you are hungry and can not afford to eat, you can receive a free Gratitude Bowls meal at the following locations and times:

Gratitude Bowls
  1. The Ridge Cafe - 29318 Hwy 49, North San Juan
    • Monday - Friday, 7:00 am - 5:00 pm
    • Saturday - Sunday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm.
  2. Matteo's Public - 300 Commercial Street, Nevada City
    • Monday - Thursday, 4:00 pm - 9:30 pm
    • Friday - Saturday, 11:30 am - 5:00 pm, 10:00 pm - 11:00 pm
    • Sunday 11:30 am - 9:30 pm (not available on parade days & summer nights).
  3. Java John's - 306 Broad Street, Nevada City
    • Daily 10:30 am - 4:30 pm.
  4. Crazy Horse Saloon & Grill - 230 Commercial Street, Nevada City
    • Monday - Thursday, 11:30 am - 11:00 pm
    • Friday 11:30 am - 12:00 midnite
    • Saturday 9:30 am - 12:00 midnite
    • Sunday 9:30 am - 11:00 pm.

Help us feed our family by donating to Gratitude Bowls at any of the above eateries. Find us on the web at www.gratitudebowls.org

Sacramento County politicians eye panhandling crackdown

Officials base new policy on assumption that panhandlers are liars, addicts
by Raheem F. Hosseini
1 May 2014
Sacramento News & Review

Characterizing panhandlers as nuisances who cause traffic accidents and use kids to engender sympathy, Sacramento County leaders moved to eradicate their presence last Tuesday.

A new ordinance due for a final vote on May 13 aims to chase panhandlers from their chosen spots near traffic medians, bus stops, ATMs, grocery stores and other businesses. These new rules would also allow law enforcement to arrest panhandlers without a witness or victim statement.

Officials say they’re merely trying to rid the county of aggressive solicitation, not eliminate it. But this is already illegal under public-nuisance laws. According to the California Penal Code, anyone who “accosts other persons in any public place … for the purpose of begging or soliciting” is guilty of disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor.

Sacramento County Capt. Matt Morgan, who commands the sheriff’s department’s north-area division, acknowledged at an April 22 board of supervisors meeting that the policy’s intent was to curtail panhandling “even if it is not aggressive.”

The ordinance does so, he added, by relieving law enforcement of the need of a credible victim or witness statement to cite or lock up a solicitor.

The city of Citrus Heights realized an estimated 85-percent reduction in panhandling in the four years since it leveled a similar ordinance, a county staff report states.

The first two violations under the proposed policy would be treated as infractions, requiring an appearance in traffic court, Morgan said. A third infraction within six months of the previous one would be treated as a misdemeanor, potentially subjecting someone to less than a year in jail if prosecuted. Prosecution would be at the discretion of the Sacramento County district attorney’s office, he added.

If enacted, sheriff’s officers would spend the first 60 days informing both solicitors and the public of the new law. Deputies would hand out fliers similar to ones used in the city of Auburn, which claim that most panhandlers have homes and use the money for drugs and alcohol.

Not everyone shares that cynical take.

“Homeless or not, people panhandle because they are impoverished and have no other alternatives, a right protected under the First Amendment,” said Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project.

Hyatt cited a recent survey by the Union Square Business Improvement District in San Francisco, which determined that more than 80 percent of that city’s panhandlers were homeless. “Honestly, I give to homeless people on the street because it’s the only time I can be sure that a dollar I spend will go directly to the person in need,” she added.

Hyatt and other homeless advocates plan to oppose the policy’s adoption on May 13, and press for alternative solutions that would stop short of criminalizing the poor, like having a social worker assess panhandlers’ needs and direct them to services.

Morgan said deputies would give solicitors pocket guides listing nearby charities where they could seek aid.

A “multidisciplinary team” consisting of county staff, law enforcement, DA’s office and legal counsel based its plan on discussions with business associations, as well as local property and business owners.

Homeless advocates were not consulted, nor were they present at last week’s hearing. Both Erlenbusch and Hyatt were contacted later.

Morgan said aggressive panhandling typically fell into the top-three concerns he hears from residents at community meetings. That message was reiterated Tuesday by representatives of three business associations.

Fulton Avenue Association executive director Melinda M. Eppler said her area’s “fairly high-end customer base,” especially those patronizing local auto dealers, didn’t want to deal with the nuisance of people hitting them up for money. She also asked supervisors to term the offenders “panhandlers” rather than “solicitors,” lest those gathering signatures in front of Trader Joe’s be targeted.

“So we don’t arrest Girl Scouts selling cookies,” quipped Supervisor Susan Peters.

Watt Avenue Merchants Association executive director David Kuhnen asked whether prostitution would be considered a form of aggressive solicitation, while a Florin Road Partnership representative wanted the sheriff’s office to work more closely with private security firms already patrolling the area.

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, later pointed out another kind of “aggressive solicitation” that elected officials conveniently forgot. “What about lobbyists?” he said dryly. “Politicians have their hands out all the time.”

Panhandling is a protected form of free speech, and laws to curtail it have been knocked down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past. Morgan believed the county had crafted an ordinance that complied with the First Amendment.

Sacramento County cities that have successfully limited panhandling with similar ordinances include Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Galt.

Ask a lawyer from the
Nevada County Public Defender's Office
about a criminal or civil issue
in a private meeting room,
with no legal ramifications.

Lawyer In The Library

Private meetings are held in the
CTC Prospector or Gold Mine rooms
at the Madelyn Helling Library:
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L.A. won't appeal ruling striking down ban on living in vehicles

by Gale Holland, & Maura Dolan
19 June 2014
Los Angeles Times

City Atty. Mike Feuer said Thursday he would not appeal a federal appeals court ruling that strikes down L.A.'s ban on living in vehicles, a key enforcement tool in the city's efforts to deal with homelessness.

But Feuer said he would work with other city figures to write a new ordinance that “respects both the rights and needs of homeless individuals and protects the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

Leon Harris, who lives in a Dolphin 3140 recreational vehicle, has been on-again, off-again homeless since he moved to California from Minnesota in 2003. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Leon Harris, who lives in a Dolphin 3140 recreational vehicle, has been on-again, off-again homeless since he moved to California from Minnesota in 2003. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

“We need to make a break from the past … and commit ourselves to grappling with the issues that create homelessness in the first place,” Feuer said in a statement.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided unanimously Thursday that a city ordinance prohibiting people from living in vehicles was unconstitutionally vague.

That ruling followed a 9th Circuit decision in 2012 that prevented Los Angeles from confiscating and destroying the property homeless people leave temporarily on sidewalks.

Both ordinances had been enforced, along with other policies, to help the city cope with a homeless population estimated between 36,000 to 54,000 people.

“The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens,” Judge Harry Pregerson, a Carter appointee, wrote for the court. “Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.”

Calling the Los Angeles law “broad and cryptic,” the court said the ban “criminalizes innocent behavior, making it impossible for citizens to know how to keep their conduct within the pale.”

Homelessness experts said the court decisions showed the city’s policies have failed.

“The city has adopted a negative anti-homeless agenda to make the problem less visible as opposed to making homeless people homes,” said retired UCLA law professor Gary Blasi, who has studied the city’s policies.

Mark Ryavec, head of the Venice Stakeholders Assn., said the decision reflected the experiences of judges “who don’t have to live with the problem” and should be appealed.

“It leaves people who are mentally ill, criminally inclined or lethal on your doorstep and removes any possibility the police can do anything about it,” said Ryavec, who said he led a neighborhood effort that cleared Venice streets of 250 cars and recreational vehicles where homeless people were living.

The numbers are starting to creep back up, he added.

Advocates for the homeless said Thursday’s ruling was likely to stem a rise in similar laws banning vehicle habitation, in California and elsewhere.

Dolan reported from San Francisco and Holland from Los Angeles.