Anti-camping ordinance lawsuit denied by jury

ALLYSON KO / AGGIE

Sacramento homeless population continues to have no right to rest

On Nov. 2, a Superior Court jury denied homeless plaintiffs’ claim that the city of Sacramento selectively enforced its longstanding ordinance banning prolonged camping in public and private spaces within the city.

“Homeless plaintiffs hoped to prove that the city violated their constitutional right to equal protection under the law by selectively enforcing the ordinance against people forced to live outdoors,” Cynthia Hubert wrote in an article in The Sacramento Bee.

The lawsuit originated in September 2009 when Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the homeless, allowed over 20 homeless individuals to camp on his private property within the city limits of Sacramento.

Merin and homeless plaintiffs contended that the city of Sacramento looked the other way when Black Friday shoppers and Boy Scouts illegally camped within the city limits. Shoppers, individuals with the Sacramento Valley Conservancy and attendants of Fairytale Town’s overnight campouts all testified that they camped in Sacramento without prior permission or receiving a summons.

Senior deputy city attorney Chance Trimm and the jury thought otherwise. The jury voted 9-3 in favor of the city’s right to cite and arrest homeless campers who did not otherwise have a permit to camp.

“It’s going to be interesting how the trial turns out,” said Jon Adler, who works for Harm Reduction Services in Sacramento, before the trial. “If they are going for the constitutionality of the camping ordinance, I don’t think they’re gonna get it.”

The verdict maintains the state of affairs, which leaves Sacramento’s growing homeless population without a right to rest.

Homelessness rose 38 percent from 2015 to 2017 in Sacramento County, according to the county’s point-in-time count. The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness reported 71 homeless deaths occurred in 2016 and 776 from 2002 to 2016.

“We need to look at communities around the nation that have had varying levels of success with innovative programs that use tent cities and tiny houses among others,” said Sheryle Stafford, a social work professor at CSU Sacramento.

“There are no alternatives [other] than the camps on the river and downtown streets,” Stafford said. “For those that want to stay unhoused, we need to make sure there is a place for them to go instead of constantly running them off the river and downtown sidewalks.”

In 2016 alone, the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County Park Rangers issued 1382 anti-camping ordinances.

“Arresting or citing the homeless isn’t going to end homelessness,” said Michelle Aguiar, a social work student at CSU Sacramento. “Punishing the homeless for being unhoused is akin to punishing a drug addict for being hooked on a substance. Just like citing a drug addict isn’t going to help them get clean, citing an unhoused individual isn’t going to get them off the streets.”

On Nov. 7, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved a three-year, $44 million homelessness prevention plan. All of the money will go toward California’s Mental Health Services Act.

On Sept. 20, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced plans to build two new homeless shelters in North Sacramento. Steinberg was the only City Council member to vote against the anti-camping ordinance when it was implemented in 1995.

Despite the verdict, Merin stills sees an opportunity to get the anti-camping ordinance repealed by taking the case to federal court, according to The Sacramento News and Review.

 

Written by: Dylan Svoboda — city@theaggie.org