Jury: City of Sacramento didn't enforce anti-camping ordinance only on homeless

A jury found in favor of the City of Sacramento in a case brought by homeless people challenging a camping ordinance they said discriminated against them.

A jury found in favor of the City of Sacramento in a case brought by homeless people challenging a camping ordinance they said discriminated against them.

Originally, a group of homeless men and women filed the lawsuit against the City of Sacramento roughly eight years ago, claiming the city ordinance “is unconstitutional because it is selectively enforced against homeless people to keep them on the move and out of sight.”

After deliberating for more than three hours, the jury returned a 9-3 verdict saying the ordinance did not discriminate in allowing (presumably) non-homeless people to camp outside stores like Best Buy for retail deals.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Merin said he believed the jury misunderstood the law, however, he was not discouraged and plans to take the issue to the federal courts.

Merin said the city’s camping ordinance is unconstitutional, a position well supported by case law in other cities whose ordinances have been struck down.

In any case, a camping ordinance isn’t a solution to the problem of homelessness in a city with soaring housing costs, putting lower wage workers in the precarious position of paying half their pay for rent, he added. Criminalizing homelessness doesn't address the problem.

“When people can't find a place to sleep without being arrested it's degradation to the max,” he said in an interview outside the courtroom.

Interim City Attorney Matt Ruyak said in a statement the camping ordinance is “intended to preserve the peace and welfare of the community (and) it is only right that the city enforce it, when persons knowingly and willfully ignore the city’s warnings.”

“We are pleased the jury returned a verdict in favor of the city," Ruyak said. "The city and its dedicated police officers respect the rights of all individuals, and do not unlawfully discriminate against the homeless or those who advocate for the homeless. Ordinances are adopted and enforced for the benefit of the public— the community as a whole.” 

Juror Steve Stevens said that although the majority of the jury felt the city did not discriminate because Black Friday camping was different than living outdoors, the general feeling was that the city’s camping ordinance wasn’t working – that it is ‘deplorable’ and ‘needs attention.’

John Kraintz, one of the plaintiffs, said he felt the jury’s decision was based on prejudice and deception.

Kraintz, who was homeless for eight or nine years before a cancer diagnosis qualified him for assistance, said that homeless people had been trying to design a camp that could work financially and realistically to solve their problems.

The city’s failure to deal with the problems of homelessness has created health and safety risks, such as elevated e-coli counts in the American River as well as stress within the community, he said, adding that the city’s plan for a homeless center is a step in the right direction.

“It takes leadership and courage to stand up to the NIMBYs,” he said, referring to those who object to its placement in their neighborhood.

“They treat the homeless like garbage!” he said. 

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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