SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho says his office, along with another private law firm, is prepared to take city officials to trial over their failure to crack down on homeless encampments.
Ho announced a lawsuit Tuesday as he stood surrounded by community members — some of which are listed as victims in the coming litigation. He said the city is seeing a “collapse into chaos” and an “erosion of every day life.”
"We will be demanding text messages, emails and the production of documents," he said. "We will be noticing deposition of witnesses. We are going to take this to trial (and) we will be calling 300 to 400 witnesses."
Ho said his long-term solutions include advocating for Gov. Gavin Newsom's $6.4 billion bond measure to create 10,000 additional mental health treatment beds and expand mandatory treatment for homeless residents suffering from substance abuse disorder.
He also referenced the Haven For Hope program in San Diego as an example of a successful jail-alternative program that can be implemented in Sacramento.
"What we're doing is simply holding the city accountable by the same laws they enforce on us," Ho said.
In response, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg's office released a statement calling Ho's lawsuit a distraction.
"No local government in the Sacramento region has done more to address the crisis on our streets: 1,200 new emergency beds, ordinances to protect sidewalks, schools and other sensitive sites; a legally binding partnership with the county; thousands of new affordable housing units-to name a few.
The frustration that members of our community feel is absolutely justified. The Council has endorsed and is pressing for strong enforcement of our codes and the law. But the DA's lawsuit will not clear a single sidewalk nor get a single person off the streets.
We are working day and night to enforce our laws and provide relief to our community while avoiding the futile trap of just moving people endlessly from one block to the next.
Frankly, we have no time for the District Attorney’s performative distraction from the hard work we all need to do together to solve this complex social problem plaguing urban centers throughout the state and nation.
The city needs real partnership from the region’s leaders, not politics and lawsuits.
Let’s just do the work."
HOW WE GOT HERE
Sacramento County had nearly 9,300 homeless people in 2022, based on data from the annual Point in Time count. That was up 67% from 2019. Roughly three-quarters of the county’s homeless population is unsheltered.
In August, Ho threatened to file charges against city officials if they didn’t implement his recommendations about homeless encampments within 30 days.
The recommendations included:
- Requiring the city attorney to increase prosecution of city codes and ordinance violations around homelessness
- Appointing four additional city attorneys to prosecute city codes and ordinance violations
- Implementing more protocols in responding to homeless encampments/cleanups
At the time, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Ho was politicizing the issue instead of being a partner with the city.
City Attorney Susan Alcala Wood then responded to Ho with a letter saying the District Attorney's community prosecutor has just as much authority to prosecute misdemeanor city code violations.
"We have done city code violations and prosecuted them more than the city attorney's office has," Ho said Tuesday. "What we're asking for is to consistently enforce the law, and if we do that, we'll get the opportunity to get to the midterm and long term solutions."
Ho, elected in 2022 after vowing on the campaign trail to address the city’s homelessness crisis, said he’s asked the city to share real-time data about available shelter beds with law enforcement.
The dispute between the district attorney and the city was further complicated by a lawsuit filed by a homeless advocacy group that resulted in an order from a federal judge temporarily banning the city from clearing homeless encampments during extreme heat. That order is now lifted but the group wants to see it extended.
The attorney of the homeless coalition also filed a complaint with the state bar this month, saying Ho abused his power by pushing the city to clear encampments when the order was in place.
Critics have said encampments are unsanitary and lawless, and block children, older residents and disabled people from using public space such as sidewalks. They say allowing people to deteriorate outdoors is neither humane nor compassionate.
But advocates for homeless people say they can’t alleviate the crisis without more investment in affordable housing and services, and that camping bans and encampment sweeps unnecessarily traumatize homeless people.