"A Collapse Into Chaos" What DA Thien Ho’s lawsuit could mean for the homeless in Sacramento
During the week of September 26, Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Sacramento in regard to the condition of their camps for the homeless across the city. Ho and the city residents filing the suit alongside him claim that the camps block sidewalks and cause local parks to be littered with used needles, which in turn drives businesses away from certain areas of the city. Although the set date for the court case is August 16, 2024, the city has responded to Ho’s claim, stating that they are not allowed to criminalize or remove homeless people from their shelters without having more proper sheltering for them. This battle between the city and District Attorney Ho encapsulates the issues of homelessness across America and what state and federal governments are doing to try and alleviate the issue.
Although Ho has proposed solutions such as providing more addiction services to the homeless and building more treatment facilities, he has also asked the city to enforce a daytime camping ban for homeless people across the city between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. This ban would bar the homeless from being able to have tents set up during the daytime, which not only exposes them to dangerous heat during the hot months but also doesn’t allow them any form of shelter. The city has not complied and has yet to enforce the ban.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has responded to Ho’s lawsuit and claimed that he’s politicizing the issue. Mayor Steinberg has set up 1,200 extra beds across the city, put ordinances in place to keep the sidewalks and streets safer for the local residents, and created more affordable housing for the homeless across the city as well. Steinberg claims that the city is trying to “avoid the trap of moving people endlessly from one block to the next” and also calls regional leaders to assist the city in alleviating the issue for good.
According to a CNN report, nearly half of America’s homeless population lives in the state of California, numbered at around 170,000 total. The state has thrown tens of billions of dollars at the issue, trying to resolve it by building more affordable housing units across the state, but nothing has worked to alleviate it so far. In Sacramento County alone, there are 9,300 homeless people but only 2,300 beds. District Attorney Ho’s solution to this problem includes creating more professionally-operated camping sites and putting more government funding towards helping the homeless who suffer from mental illness. Ho has also called on City Manager Howard Chan to open more beds for the homeless, but he has yet to do so.
While California has tried taking steps necessary towards solving its homelessness problem, its constant “sweeps” and evictions have made the issue even worse. Although Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) says these sweeps help with local and state public health issues regarding public sanitation, they aren’t as effective as some may think. These evictions and sweeps that are routinely conducted by the state only exacerbate the issue of homelessness as local politicians and Newsom are not attacking the root of the issue, which is the lack of affordable housing and access to proper mental health care and rehabilitation.
On the other side of this issue are the advocacy groups in the city that work to protect the homeless and give them a voice that they ever so desperately need within politics. The Sacramento Homeless Union (SHU) filed a lawsuit to the district courts asking District Judge Troy L. Nunley to bar the city from doing any sweeps of homeless encampments due to the extreme summer heat. A month later, on July 15, the city was ordered to stop evictions of the homeless from their encampments, but that order has since been lifted. The SHU’s lawsuit was filed through federal courts, potentially making the ordering easier for them. SHU also plans to submit an intervention brief into Ho’s lawsuit at some point to potentially quell the enactment of more encampment sweeps. Advocacy groups such as SHU argue that these sweeps done by the city or state don’t alleviate the issue they’re trying to solve as Sacramento puts little to no investment into affordable housing or more accessible healthcare for the homeless and mentally ill, traumatizing them unnecessarily as a result.
The state of homelessness in California not only reflects the overall neglect that they face in the state, but also the neglect of all homeless people across the United States. While California has made efforts to solve homelessness in its own backyard, the steps they’ve taken are only taken in vain by the mass evictions of sweeps of encampments that the state conducts. These evictions they carry not only violate the precedent set in Martin v. Boise, but they also violate the 8th Amendment, as it’s cruel and unusual punishment. Although there is no definitive answer to how to solve homelessness in America, state governments and the federal government can start by allowing more access to healthcare, affordable housing, and shelters for the homeless to stay while they try to get back on their feet. Homelessness is a problem involving people that requires solutions where they’re treated like people instead of being moved out of sight and consequently out of mind.