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"It is just a crisis": Sacramento homeless advocates to intervene on landmark homeless lawsuit against city

Sacramento homeless advocates to intervene on landmark homeless lawsuit
Sacramento homeless advocates to intervene on landmark homeless lawsuit 02:58

SACRAMENTO - Homeless advocates plan to intervene in a lawsuit after Sacramento's district attorney sued the city over its handling of the homeless crisis. County District Attorney Thien Ho said the city failed to enforce the law and allowed the homeless crisis to become a public nuisance.

"We oppose both the city and the district attorney because they have opposed us," said Anthony Prince, an attorney for Sacramento's Homeless Union.

He said they have the right under the California Code of Civil Procedure to file what is known as a motion and complaint for intervention, and he wants the voices of those living on the streets to be heard.

"If you have a group of people that are going to be impacted by litigation that other parties are engaging in, you can file the motion to be designated as a party because you are going to be impacted between these two other parties if you're not part of the lawsuit," Prince said.

Prince said the district attorney's demands listed in the lawsuit against the city — to ban daytime camping, create professionally operated safe ground sites and force people into treatment — is not the answer. 

"It is proposing a criminalizing solution to a systemic problem," Prince said. "They simply want to get rid of the homeless, sweep them off the streets and run them out of town."

He and other homeless advocates believe that affordable housing is the answer.

"The idea of forcing someone into treatment accepts the methodology that the reason for homelessness is mental illness or substance abuse. That's not the reason people are homeless," Prince said. "The percentage of homeless people who suffer from substance abuse or mental illness is about maybe 30-45%. It is not that much more than the general population."

Prince believes there should be more mental health resources available to everyone in the community.

"There's a lot of mental problems," said Shenandoah Triplett, who is homeless. "A lot of mental problems out here and people with drug addiction."

Triplett told CBS13 she became homeless after she retired and her partner died ten years ago.

"I lived on the American River for eight years and it was getting really rough," Triplett said.

After years on the streets, she recently found stability at First Step Communities, a public-private partnership program with local governments and Sacramento Steps Forward.

"I am about to be housed, I think," said Triplett. "Either way, I am stuck here, and it is a good place to be."

A recent Point in Time Survey showed that there were nearly 9,300 homeless people in Sacramento County. That number was up 67% from the 2019 survey, with most people living on the streets of the city.

"I kind of live by this code of love and tolerance so I want the best for them, but I also don't feel safe in my own home sometimes," said Tiffiny Glass, whose home in Oak Park is just feet away from homeless tents.

Glass said tents started popping up about ten years ago, but the city would always clear them until 2020. Since then, she said the problem just keeps getting worse.

"There's a lot of mental illness here, there's a lot of dirt and filth and they don't have a toilet," Glass said. "You can imagine that it is a mess."

Glass does not even bother to do her yard work anymore and wants enforcement to happen now. She said she is optimistic about a new housing development that may cause some of the homeless near her home to move.

"It is just a crisis," she said. "It's bigger than me, it's bigger than you and it's bigger than them."

Price said the Sacramento Homeless Union plans to file the motion to intervene within the next few weeks.

The dispute between the district attorney and the city was further complicated by a lawsuit filed by a homeless advocacy group earlier this year 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 Prince said they are currently working on a response because they want to see it extended.

"Talk with us," said Prince. "Let's build some bridges and figure out a way that your neighborhood is respected but you also understand that there is a crisis in this city and neither the city nor county are doing anything."

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