A rare legal success in the homelessness situation in Sacramento, as reported in the Sacramento Bee.
The city of Sacramento did not treat homeless people unfairly in its enforcement of a longtime ordinance banning outdoor camping for extended periods in public and private spaces, a Superior Court jury decided Thursday.
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. Police looked the other way, they argued, when others slept outside for family camping or to be the first in line to land the latest electronic gadget at Best Buy.
After less than a day of deliberations, the jury voted 9-3 in favor of the defendants. The panel sided with the city’s argument that it uses the ordinance to protect the public and act on complaints against campers, and had to cite and arrest homeless people who refused to leave illegal encampments.
The case began more than eight years ago, after about two dozen people camped in a vacant lot at C and 12th streets. The action followed years of efforts to establish a safe and legal place where homeless people could live without fear of being cited or arrested.
After several complaints about noise, odors and trash, police warned the campers that they would be arrested if they stayed on the property. When they refused to leave, officers testified, police cited campers and took them to jail. The campers dispersed only after former Mayor Kevin Johnson promised he would work with them toward their goals. The search for a “Safe Ground” continues today, as the city struggles to find shelter and services for an estimated 3,000 people who sleep outdoors on any given night.
Sacramento’s new mayor, Darrell Steinberg, has made tackling homelessness a centerpiece of his administration.
Juror Steve Stevens, who works at a local gambling hall, said Thursday following the court verdict that a majority of panelists agreed that the ordinance, in effect for 22 years, “is not working” to curb Sacramento’s growing homelessness crisis. “I think all of the jurors felt that the current situation is deplorable,” Stevens said. “But that’s not what we were deciding in this case.”
He said the comparison between Best Buy campers and homeless men and women and their encampments was a stretch for jurors. “The situations are very different,” he said.
In the case of the shoppers, he said, “It seemed clear they wouldn’t be there for an extended period. There was no harm to the public or threat to health and safety.”
Retrieved November 6 2017 from http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article182429671.html