After eight years, a landmark civil lawsuit against the City of Sacramento's 'anti-camping' ordinance will finally be heard in trial at a Sacramento Superior Court.
Civil rights attorney and longtime homeless advocate, Mark Merin, is arguing against the current city ordinance, claiming it is unconstitutional because it's selectively enforced against the homeless. Other residents who camp out at a friend's home on private property or outside a retail store waiting for a hot product, are not threatened with removal or arrest, according to the lawsuit.
The suit came after a group of homeless men and women were arrested for camping, even though they were on Merin's downtown Sacramento private property with his permission.
Before understanding the details of the case, it's important to understand the ordinance in question.
Under Title 12 'Streets, Sidewalks and Public Public', Sacramento City Code states:
It is unlawful and a public nuisance for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas:
A. Any public property; or
B. Any private property.
Overnight camping is allowed on a private residential place by friends and family of the property owner as long as the owner consents and the stay is limited to no more than one consecutive night. The ordinance doesn't apply to properties that have already worked with the City on the intended use.
However, it is possible for the City to issue a permit to operate a camp or camp facility for a special event such as a program operated by the departments of the City, youth or school events or sporting events. The city manager will consult with other departments to discuss health, sanitary and public issues before issuing a permit. The permit comes with a fee and if the permit is denied, the fee is returned.
Violating the city laws can result in a misdemeanor and may constitute a public nuisance.
Technically, the group behind the lawsuit was in violation of the city's ordinance because they did not have a permit to stay on the property for more than one night- regardless that it was private property. Merin hopes to prohibit the current practices and is pushing for the City to designate a place where unsheltered homeless people can leave their belongings without facing a citation.
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