COURT WATCH: SLO Homeless Union Asks Federal Court to Stop Evictions, Closure of SLO ‘Safe Parking Site’

Gavel with open book and scales on table

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By Crescenzo Vellucci 

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA – The San Luis Obispo Homeless Union Monday said it has asked a federal court for an ex parte temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the County of San Luis Obispo to “halt the closure of the Oklahoma Avenue Safe Parking Site, located in San Luis Obispo, California,” that has been a safe zone for the unhoused living in trailers and RVs since 2021.

The pleading, filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California/Western Division, charges the county and cities of San Luis Obispo, Los Osos, Morro Bay, Oceana and others “began aggressively enforcing ordinances prohibiting the use of recreational vehicles and trailers as human habitations.”

Filed by California Homeless Union/Statewide Organizing Council General Counsel Anthony Prince and Andrea M. Henson, Counsel to San Luis Obispo County Homeless Union, the complaint seeks to immediately stop the county and cities from rousting any of the homeless, including those already tossed out, and enforcing local traffic codes until, “Parties…meet and confer.”

The filing said the parties must agree “on the establishment of an effective process of locating, determining the availability and evaluating the suitability of and providing or otherwise assisting residents in obtaining genuine, effective, safe, accessible, affordable, and long-term indoor housing or, where appropriate, accessible, safe, affordable and longer-term parking for residents who must remain housed in their RV or trailer.”

The pleading asks the court to sanction a “process” of formal meetings “involving each resident, a representative of the County, a representative of the San Luis Obispo Homeless Union, resourced housing providers, and, where appropriate, homeless service providers and others as necessary to accomplish the objective of securing alternative housing or longer-term safe parking for each resident.”

The filing also asks any former resident removed recently for “alleged misconduct or failure to cooperate in pursuing genuine housing opportunities and was denied the opportunity to file an appeal shall be entitled to a hearing before a neutral fact-finder designated by the Court or by agreement of the Parties. If the fact-finder determines that the former resident was wrongfully removed, he/she/they will be entitled to participate in the process.”

The court action asked the court to “oversee, either directly, or by way of a designated magistrate judge or special master, the creation and implementation of the process for providing alternative housing.”

The plaintiff’s brief argues that “plaintiffs have spent over two months laboring, without success, to reach agreement with the County and establish an effective process of locating, determining the availability and evaluating the suitability of and providing safe, accessible, affordable and long-term indoor housing and/or the suspension of enforcement of the RV restrictions that have exacerbated the crisis of vehicular homelessness, and where appropriate, accessible, safe, affordable and long-term parking for residents who wish to remain housed in their RV’s or trailers.

“The County refused to agree. Accordingly, frustrated in their efforts to reach informal agreement to keep the Site open pending successful relocation of the remaining and previously exited residents and the threatened closure of the site prior to March 18, 2024…plaintiffs now seek immediate injunctive relief from this Court.”

In 2021, the homeless filing details, SLO County, after receiving federal funding, and “responding to the exacerbated crisis caused by its own restrictive ordinances and those in the cities that passed similar prohibitions…allocated $500,000 to the County Administrative Office…to open a safe parking site and make it available to the County’s vehicular homeless population (and) made numerous official statements on its website and in the media declaring that those who came to the Site would be provided with the resources and direct assistance to obtain permanent housing.”

But, the pleading continues, this is when relations began to become strained between the county and unhoused, maintaining the county evicted Homeless Union SLO President Nick Watson “on trumped up” charges.

The union insists no due process was provided Watson, or “not a single one of the many residents who were exited based on allegations of misconduct or failure to cooperate with efforts to obtain housing was ever given an opportunity to appeal the decision to terminate services and remove them and their non-drivable trailers from the site.”

The SLO union was “effectively crippled” by the county, and “forced it divert to resources to defending targeted leaders, and the wrongful ejectment of dozens of site residents has had the effect of geographically scattering and separating Union members making it difficult to convene meetings and otherwise advocate for its members and the broader homeless community in SLO County.”

A year ago, the county said it was closing the site, noted the homeless union, and “began systematically exiting the residents for whom no actual, accessible and safe alternative housing had been provided. In the majority of cases, the County towed the mostly-inoperable RVs to inaccessible storage yards while the residents have become homeless.”

The filing then paints a picture of the county “exiting” disabled people in December 2023, “accusing each of “non-cooperation” and “failure to pursue ‘pathway[s] to housing’ that were, in fact, illusory, non-existent, inappropriate, inaccessible and/or unsafe,” warning residents “would be regarded as trespassers if they did not leave within seven days.”

Apparently, the union asserts in the filing, the county did engage in some talks with the union, but after three weeks, the county “intensified its efforts to remove the residents. And on Feb. 2, 10 days after plaintiffs filed suit, the “county rejected the Union’s interim proposal made nearly one month earlier and announced that the Site would be permanently closed on March 18.”

The homeless union claims, “If the Site is allowed to close, the Union could be destroyed altogether,” and provided numerous declarations from disabled residents, many who are sick, with nowhere else to go if the site closes.    

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