Federal Judge Grants Homeless Union TRO for 14 Days to Stop City of Sacramento from Sweeping Unhoused during Super-Heated Temps

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

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – U.S. District Court Judge Troy L. Nunley issued a dramatic, last-second temporary restraining order early Thursday preventing the City of Sacramento from “clearing encampments belonging to the unhoused” for 14 days—and possibly longer—to give respite from upcoming super-heated temperatures to those without housing.

The judge was responding to a 170-page motion and exhibits from the Sacramento Homeless Union earlier this week that claimed the unhoused faced “great bodily harm or even death” from the summer heat, and the City—using police and bulldozers—were “pushing them out of shaded areas and into the direct sun and heat during days of excessive heat.” 

The court said the union has a “likelihood of success on a Fourteenth Amendment state-created danger claim…Plaintiffs have presented sufficient evidence, at this stage, to demonstrate the City’s clearing of encampments constitutes “affirmative conduct” that places unhoused individuals at an increased risk of the ‘known and obvious danger’ of exposure to extreme heat.”

Nunley also concluded, “Plaintiffs’ evidence forecasting excessive heat for the upcoming weeks and detailing the risks of heat-related deaths and illnesses is sufficient to show that irreparable harm will result in the absence of injunctive relief,” adding the city’s interest is “far outweighed by Plaintiffs’ interest in the health and welfare of unhoused individuals.” 

Crystal Sanchez, President of the Sacramento Homeless Union, said, “We are grateful to the Court for recognizing the increased risk of harm to thousands of unhoused, unsheltered residents by this cruel practice, in violation of the City’s own written protocols regarding sweeps during periods of excessive heat.”

Sanchez added the judge also “ordered talks between the Union and the City on the controversial issue of prohibiting homeless encampments on what the City terms “critical infrastructure.”

“We are going to use the next two weeks to mobilize the broader community, including renters facing eviction, seniors on fixed incomes unable to afford housing, the churches, the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities and all those who could lose their housing tomorrow,” said Anthony Prince, general counsel for the California Homeless Union

The filing by the union 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 insists 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 this week 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.’”

The judge wrote new “political developments, including ‘a new sidewalk ordinance’; a measure that allows any person to initiate a lawsuit against the City for failure to clear homeless encampments; expansion of area within City limits defined as ‘critical infrastructure’ where camping is banned; and public demands from the Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court and the District Attorney calling for increased police presence at and around the main courthouse to enforce code violations.”

The judge also ordered both parties to “meet and confer and file a joint statement regarding possible ways to narrow the scope of any future injunctions to best balance the competing interests at play.”

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