The tension in California’s capital city over its homelessness crisis has reached a boiling point as Sacramento’s top prosecutor has sued city leaders over what he says is a failure to enforce laws, allowing the crisis to become a public nuisance.
Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho announced the civil lawsuit Tuesday during a news conference, surrounded by some of the residents whose statements are included in the lawsuit.
“There are more homeless people in Sacramento than San Francisco,” the lawsuit stated. “Our community is at a breaking point. We have an unhoused population living in conditions typical of third-world countries. And we have the rest of the community stuck between compassion and chaos.”
The lawsuit is not asking for money. Ho essentially wants the court to order the city to enforce its own ordinances, like banning daytime camping in public places and blocking sidewalks.
This is something that has been brewing for months. But it’s not an issue exclusive to Sacramento, as California’s population of people experiencing homelessness accounts for nearly one-third of unhoused citizens in the entire country.
Back in July, the district attorney’s office asked residents to complete a survey regarding 16 of the major homeless encampments in the city.
The office said nearly 3,000 responses were received, though their methodology was not specified. Some of the reports from the survey included a girls' soccer game postponed because of hypodermic needles on the field and children having to walk through human feces and urine to get to school.
In August, Ho had threatened criminal charges against city officials under state public nuisance laws if they didn’t implement a list of changes within 30 days.
He alleges the city has not accepted any of the proposals.
The lawsuit includes narratives from dozens of city residents living near homeless encampments. Some homeowners claimed the inhabitants have threatened them with deadly weapons or vandalized and broken into their homes and cars, or that they’ve been chased by unleashed dogs.
The homeowners also stated they’ve witnessed the inhabitants trespassing on their properties to masturbate, openly use narcotics and leave piles of feces.
Fires lit on the sidewalks and streets near the homeless encampments have often resulted in calls to the fire department, and one resident claimed they tried to set her car on fire.
Tuesday’s news conference included testimony from one city resident who lives with her husband and two teen children.
“People do drugs in our front yard,” explained Emily Webb. “We are losing sleep and exhausted from this stress of constantly being the squeaky wheel, begging for help from the city. We are beyond frustrated and we no longer feel comfortable or safe in our home or valued by our city.”
In addition to the residents’ accounts, the lawsuit also stated the people experiencing homelessness “deserve to feel and be safe” and “it’s not compassionate” to let them die on the streets in intense weather conditions.
The lawsuit acknowledged there are some initiatives in the works that could help the crisis long-term, but stated enforcing city ordinances would help short-term.
“This is a model for the people to stand up and hold their government accountable,” Ho said in an interview Tuesday, reported by the Associated Press. “All I’m asking is the city do its job.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Ho was politicizing the issue, despite them both being Democratic. The city has added 1,200 emergency shelter beds, passed ordinances to protect sidewalks and schools and has created more affordable housing, Steinberg said in a statement received by the Associated Press.
“The city needs real partnership from the region’s leaders, not politics and lawsuits,” Steinberg said.
Tuesday night, the Sacramento City Council approved over $4.6 million in state grant funds to keep a navigation center for people experiencing homelessness open. NBC’s news affiliate in Sacramento, KCRA, reported the council did not speak about the lawsuit during their meeting.
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