Sacramento Homeless Union Wins Another Round in Court to Protect Unhoused from Extreme Heat – Federal Judge Extends Order Preventing City Sweeps after City Risked Contempt

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 – The Sacramento Homeless Union won another round with the city of Sacramento Wednesday when a federal judge—citing extreme Sacramento heat that has hit 100 degrees or more all this week—extended an order preventing the city from sweeping homeless camps though August.

A temporary restraining order U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley issued earlier this month—and was violated by the city several times by all accounts—was not only extended, but now allows the unhoused to be left alone unless they are within 500 feet of a school or if they block too much of a sidewalk.

The union claimed victory Wednesday and said the judge has now ordered the city to “show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for previously violating TRO.”

“The Court concludes the weather forecast predicting excessive heat for the upcoming weeks and Plaintiffs’ evidence detailing the risk of heat-related deaths and illnesses is sufficient to show that irreparable harm will result in the absence of injunctive relief,” wrote Judge Nunley.

The judge also granted a request by the union to allow representatives into the Miller Park Safeground, an approved encampment, to monitor conditions of those unhoused there.

And, the court barred the city from taking “items of personal/survival necessity” of the homeless—only trash, if and when they must be moved from city streets. The union and homeless advocates have long complained the city takes and discards medications, and other personal belongings of the unhoused when they do sweeps.

“Once again, Judge Troy L. Nunley has ordered the City to stop placing our unhoused neighbors in harm’s way in the middle of extreme temperatures. This is the fourth time he has issued the same order,” said the union in a statement.

“We are also grateful that the judge has ordered the City to explain why it should not be held in contempt of court for violating the initial Temporary Restraining Order by kicking homeless persons out of City Hall Plaza where they had a right to be in order to be in the shade and get out of the direct sun and heat,” the union added.

Sacramento Homeless Union President Crystal Sanchez said, ““Homelessness is an incredibly complex issue, but one of the most important steps is providing the necessary resources to those in need…the city has the opportunity to reprioritize and strengthen its investment in helping those who are living on the streets and the surrounding community by bringing in true solutions to end the suffering of homelessness.”

California Homeless Union organizer and attorney Anthony Prince charged, “It’s time for the City of Sacramento to stop ignoring the risks of these extreme weather conditions, not just on the homeless, but on all of our most vulnerable and marginalized residents, seniors, persons with disabilities, those who can’t afford to air condition their homes either because they cannot afford it or struggle with high utility bills.”

Prince added, “You would think by now the City would stop making a bad situation worse by cruelly kicking unhoused persons out of more shaded areas into a more dangerous circumstance.”

The union noted it would “work with the City and Sacramento Couty, should they wish to finally take into consideration the concerns of the unhoused, the small businesses and the neighborhoods instead of setting us against each other and wasting more taxpayers’ money on failed ‘solutions.’

In response to the complaints of the city to the court about the unhoused, the judge wrote, “City’s arguments are unpersuasive…As this Court has repeatedly stated, the City’s interest in clearing encampments during extreme heat is far outweighed by Plaintiffs’ interest in the health and welfare of unhoused individuals.”

The union—embroiled in a legal fight with city of Sacramento and war of words with the Sacramento County District Attorney—Monday began circulating notices citywide to the unhoused and public charging “the city violated” a federal court order stopping sweeps in the city until at least Aug. 17.

The union told the federal judge to find the city in contempt of court for disobeying his order.

“As you know, last week the City violated (U.S. District Court) Judge (Troy) Nunley’s Temporary Restraining Order when police and security guards kicked campers out of City Hall Plaza. As a result, many unhoused persons are scared to return to the shade of City Hall Plaza…the Union is circulating the attached notice to those who have returned to City Hall and those who were pushed into the nearby streets and Cesar Chavez Park,” said the union.

The union has also informed California Attorney General Rob Bonta Sacramento County’s District Attorney has been “encouraging” the city of Sacramento to break a federal court order that banned sweeping homeless camps because of expected super-heated temperatures that could cause “death” to those unhoused.

And, said the union to the attorney general to California’s top cop, Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho is playing a major role in encouraging the city to violate the court order.

In a brief note to AG Bonta, Prince said, “We wanted to make you aware of the situation described in the message as we believe Mr. Ho has dangerously overstepped his authority as a County District Attorney and is misusing his office to gain a political advantage by demanding that the City act in such a manner tantamount to willful disobedience by the City of Sacramento of a Temporary Restraining Order issued by District Judge Troy L. Nunley (Aug. 3).”

Prince added, “We are in the process of further researching this matter and intend to file a formal complaint with the State Bar against Mr. Ho and will follow up this message with a formal communication to your office regarding this matter.”

Characterizing Ho’s actions to Bonta as “increasingly strident…rhetoric and threats coming from the Sacramento District Attorney to pressure the City of Sacramento to resume currently-enjoined enforcement of its anti-camping ordinances, this is an urgent matter for the Sacramento Homeless Union and its 2,700 members.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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