Atticus Reyes, VCLA Cohort XXVII
Field Representative, Office of CA State Assemblymember Steve Bennett
The second session of VCLA consisted of community outreach projects where we were all split into small groups and dispersed across different cities of Ventura County to learn about their issues and report back to the cohort. This was quite an intimidating task as it required me to visit Thousand Oaks, a city I had never really visited or had any previous knowledge about.
Our group chose to tour the Thousand Oaks Police Department, which is essentially a part of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. Thousand Oaks, like a few other cities in Ventura County, do not have the resources to fund their own municipal police department so they contract with the county sheriffs to provide law enforcement resources. I was very interested in this tour as criminal justice reform is a deep passion of mine.
I will spare most of the details of the tour as this one piece stuck out to me since it involved one of California’s most pressing issues: the housing crisis. Thousand Oaks is no stranger to homelessness, and the sheriffs explained how many of their calls over the past few years have consisted of folks requesting assistance in clearing out homelessness encampments. This has put a lot of pressure on the sheriff’s as they are called in to address what is really a nationwide crisis which is ultimately the result of a broken system.
Looking at this issue through a political lens, it is intriguing as I believe local elected officials often lean on law enforcement to address the effects of issues like these rather than spend political capital to actually address the root causes of these issue. When discussing this, the Chief did mention that due to a 9th Circuit ruling, Martin v. Boise which prohibits cities from criminalizing the status of homelessness itself by punishing individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go, it has actually pushed the local city government to begin addressing this issue structurally. Law enforcement if not allowed to arrest homeless individuals if the local city government has not provided them with a place to reside. I think this has great potential to push elected leaders to put some skin in the game rather than pass the buck along by simply calling on law enforcement to address it. I hope elected leaders, as well as community stakeholders, come together to find a way to holistically and humanely address this crisis that is harming some of our most vulnerable neighbors.