After nearly a decade, a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the homeless community against the City of Sacramento is set for trial.
The lawsuit, filed by local civil rights attorney, Mark Merin, argues that current city ordinances prohibiting overnight camping on both private and public property, discriminate against the homeless and violates their constitutional rights. Merin claims, the ordinance is enforced against homeless people but doesn't apply to other residents who, for example, camp out in front of retail stores waiting for a special deal or item.
The trial began Monday morning at Sacramento Superior Court but Merin isn't seeking monetary damages. Instead, the attorney and his clients are asking the City to designate 'Safe Grounds' where homeless people can stay and leave their belongings as they try to get into housing.
To better understand the case, here is a timeline of the events leading up to this year's trial, according to court documents:
- In 2009, Merin gave written permission to allow a group of about 30 homeless men and women to set up tents and camp on a fenced lot he owned in Downtown Sacramento. Merin brought in portable toilets and two service providers to offer care to the homeless individuals. He allowed the group to store their belongings on his private lot as they waited to qualify for housing. The problem was, the camp violated a city ordinance which prohibits overnight camping on both private and public property-- even with permission from the owner-- for more than one consecutive night.
- In September of 2009, after a neighbor complained, police enforced the ordinance by detaining all people on the lot, seizing their property and citing the group. The group alleged they had nowhere else to go, so they remained on the lot. Law enforcement officials came back a couple days later and again detained and cited the homeless group, seizing any additional gear found on the lot. After finding the group was still living on the lot on a third visit, police arrested the individuals. The group remained in the camp in protest for several weeks, until city leaders, including former Mayor Kevin Johnson, pledged to find a permanent solution. However, no solution came into fruition.
- In late 2009, Merin filed a lawsuit against the City of Sacramento, on behalf of his homeless guests, alleging a violation of the constitutional right to sleep and due process.
- The lawsuit was dismissed by a Superior Court of Sacramento judge because it was determined Merin failed to prove why the group couldn't find proper shelter. Merin followed the ruling with an appeal.
- In February 2015, the appeal was heard in the state's Third District Court of Appeals, which upheld most of the court's rulings with one major exception. Merin could move forward with the case under the argument that the City's anti-camping ordinance is unconstitutional because it discriminates against homeless people.
- The decision brings the case to the current trial where Merin will push to to prove his argument. If successful, the decision may change the course of homelessness in Sacramento.