Federal Court Asked to Immediately Stop Sacramento City, County from Clearing Homeless Encampments Until End of Hot Weather to Prevent Unhoused Deaths

Possessions of a homeless person on Capital Mall Drive in Sacramento on Saturday, September 11, 2021.(Photo by Robert J Hansen)

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – Charging “excessive” summer temperatures may result in “great bodily harm or even death, the Sacramento Homeless Union Tuesday asked the U.S. District Court for an immediate Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to prevent the City and County of Sacramento from “clearing encampments belonging to the unhoused.”

In short, the union claims the homeless community is under assault by extreme heat, Sacramento City, Sacramento County and the county’s top prosecutor and Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge.

The union asks for an “ex-parte” motion, without a hearing, on behalf of a trio of unhoused people, and “all those similarly situated”—the official homeless count in the city and county is now nearly 10,000.

The 16-page pleading, filed by the union’s chief counsel Anthony Prince, told the court the injunction should be in force from Tuesday through at least mid-September “when it is predicted that temperatures will finally fall below and remain below 90 degrees…the temperature…the City of Sacramento itself concedes such heat becomes ‘excessive.’

“Unless Defendants are immediately enjoined from clearing encampments belonging to the unhoused, Plaintiffs will be at risk for great bodily harm or even death,” according to the pleading.

The union also asked the court to intervene and stop “Defendant City of Sacramento from prohibiting Union representatives, advocates and community supporters entry to the Miller Park…so that they may assist residents in investigating and alleviating the dangerous conditions.”

The filing noted that when last year “brought record-setting excessive heat to the City and County of Sacramento, this Court issued two successive preliminary injunctions which…directed the City of Sacramento to cease its policy and practice of displacing unsheltered persons from areas where shade provided by trees and other vegetation as well as under freeway overpasses, bridges, buildings, etc. offered a modicum of protection from the sun and excessive heat.”

The union said the current summer has “already brought record extreme temperatures to a city where since last year, the number of unsheltered, unhoused persons jumped 67 percent from an official Point in Time count of 5,570 in 2022 to a current record 9,278 homeless Sacramentans in 2023.” 

“Now, once again, Defendant City of Sacramento has resumed this cruel practice as temperatures are forecast to soar into the triple-digits by the end of this week,” the filing maintains.

The filing contends that while the City has offered to relocate some campers to its “Safeground” at Miller Park, there is no room in trailers, and “tents are placed directly on asphalt bringing temperatures in the tents up to triple digits as well as exposing those inside to dangerous toxins released by the extreme heat.”

The union said unhoused are given a choice of either going into an area like Miller Park, and intense heat, or being swept by police and moved out onto the unsafe and unhealthy streets, and that’s unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs add, “Some 60 tents are crowded together with virtually no space between them, no cover over them and in direct sunlight while on the other side of the fence, inside Miller Park, itself, is a dense stand of broadly crowned shade trees no more than 25 yards away, but not close enough to provide any protection to the residents.”

The pleading notes the City is “misusing” new laws to “dramatically escalate and intensify the sweeps. Some of these tools were created last summer during the pendency of this Court’s previously ordered preliminary injunction, and now include a ‘sidewalk’ ordinance and the voter-approved Measure O, which authorizes any person to initiate a lawsuit against the City of Sacramento for failure to clear homeless encampments.”

In addition, the filing said, “unprecedented public demands first by Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court Michael G. Bowman and then newly-elected Sacramento District Attorney Thien Ho…urged an ‘increased police presence’ at and around the main courthouse to ‘enforce code violations against unhoused persons.’”

Prince said DA Ho has now agreed, as of Tuesday evening, to meet with the union Wednesday, after earlier suggesting he might file legal action against the City for not criminalizing the unhoused near the courthouse.

Prince added Judge Bowman has “so far declined repeated requests to meet with the Union.”

Homeless Union President Crystal Sanchez states in her declaration that Ho and Judge Bowman’s letters have “resulted in clearing unhoused persons from the shade provided by tree-line(d) streets in the downtown area (and)many people who feared the police, left the courthouse and are now in unshaded parts of town in the burning sun.”

Plaintiffs said there are “serious questions including…whether by breaking up encampments where a modicum of protection from the heat exists (downtown) and exiling them to the superheated, unshaded streets and sidewalks or placing persons in tents, away from nearby shade trees, on superheated asphalt in the Miller Park ‘Safeground’ where internal tent temperatures reach and exceed triple-digits.”

They add that “the City is bowing to pressure from the Sacramento Superior Court and the District Attorney and, fearing lawsuits permitted by ‘Measure O,’ is escalating sweeps and the clearing of homeless encampments.”

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