Homeless Evicted from Roseland Camp in Calif. After Unsuccessful Legal Battle
As the cost of living continues to climb, social programs are de-funded and the gap between the rich and everyone else grows wider, more Americans are being forced into homelessness because they simply can't afford to rent a place to live. As a result, sizeable homeless camps are sprouting up in more places.
Five homeless people living in Sonoma County, California, filed a suit in early April to keep the homeless camp where they live from being closed by local government authorities. After a three-week court stay, the judge ruled they would be evicted, but they still have no place to go. The case shows just how much the government has neglected its responsibility of doing something about the growing crisis of homelessness.
The original case filing, which pitted Deborah Drake, Samantha Jenkins, Nicole Vannucci, Steven Robert Singleton and Ellen Brown (all homeless people) plus Homeless Action! (an activist group) against the County of Sonoma, the Sonoma County Community Development Commission (CDC) and the City of Santa Rosa, was filed on April 3. It pitted those five homeless people against the powerful forces of Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, located in one of the wealthiest and most expensive places to live in the entire U.S.
The homeless people had been living in what was known as the Roseland Village camp. It was located on a site owned by the CDC, behind Roseland’s Dollar Tree store.
In their complaint, the homeless people said that the defendants in the case had not provided adequate placement areas for their homeless populations. That forced those Sonoma County residents, who have no other place to live but outside, to form encampments as a means of survival. Two of those locations were known as the Roseland encampments.
The City of Santa Rosa, under pressure from the wealthier members of the community and the CDC, who wanted to develop the land where the encampments had been resting, had engaged in a systematic approach to close all homeless encampments in their jurisdiction. As the suit noted, the act of closing other local encampments “resulted in the illegal confiscation and destruction of personal property and the shifting of persons from one encampment to another.” Because of that, the Roseland Village camp, where the five homeless plaintiffs in this suit lived, had more than doubled in size.
As of the filing, there were approximately 100 people living in tents on the site. The camp had been there since 2015.
Despite the lack of other facilities where those homeless people might relocate if their home site were dismantled, the City of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County and the CDC persisted in their plans to evict the many people who lived on the site.
The lawsuit did result in a short pause in the action. Shortly after the filing, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria urged the city, county and CDC to reconsider their actions. In his comments at that time, he said, “If the government does not have shelter available for people, I think it’s very likely that the constitution prevents the government from enforcing an anticamping ordinance against homeless people.” He went on to say “Even if there are shelter beds available, they may be inadequate … I think you raise serious constitutional questions here.”
Though the judge’s comments seemed positive, he also raised doubts about whether the homeless residents involved had sufficiently proven their side of the case. The logic behind those comments was that the new development that was planned to be built on the Roseland Village camp site was expected to have 175 apartments, with a full 75 of those rented at below market rates.
The temporary stay of the plaintiffs’ eviction was just that, unfortunately. Those at Roseland Village were finally pushed out of the camp when the stay had passed.
That facility is now surrounded with chain-link fencing and locked out for the former residents. Contractors are currently clearing the area of metal, wood, pallets and other debris that are all that is left of the camp.
The news is not completely bad, however. Catholic Charities became involved at the site, and after an assessment of needs and some planning, an estimated 74 people have found housing. Fifty-eight of those are in shelters, including Sam Jones Hall, a shelter in southwest Santa Rosa that is managed directly by Catholic Charities. Ten have been able to secure hotel vouchers for at least a temporary stay. And some of those 10 are letting others who were not so lucky sleep in their places at night for safety.
This is all part of a continuing problem in Sonoma County, where there are currently an estimated 3,000 homeless people at any given time. Of those, about one-third stay in shelters and the remaining 2,000 are stuck living outside. This homelessness issue is part of an even larger problem in the state. Based on the expanded census definition of poverty, California has the highest rate of poverty in the United States. In 2015, according to statistics from the Public Policy Institute of California, 38.7% of state residents were poor or near poor. Overall, 14.3% of all Californians lacked the estimated $24,000 bare minimum of income per year required for a family of four to meet basic needs. In Sonoma County, with a much higher cost of living than elsewhere, a full 17.6% of the residents were living at or below the poverty line.
Why this is the case is a complex issue, but the increasing costs of housing and all basic needs in the state are a major contributor to the problem. The shrinking of safety net supports, such as food stamp equivalents (Calfresh in the state of California) and other programs, is also a cause. And rising income inequality makes the situation even worse, with the ruling class in the state dominated by wealthier individuals who have little direct connection with the terrifying nature of poverty and homelessness for those who struggle to survive on the fringes of normal life there.
What this brings with it is a serious problem of homelessness for California. According to state records, as of January 2015, California’s counts showed it had 115,738 homeless people out on the streets and in homeless camps like the Roseland Village one. That number represents a full 21% of all homeless people counted across the entire United States. Even if the numbers are not precisely correct, the reality that California has the largest number of homeless people for all states and that it has about one-fifth of the total homeless population across the nation is still likely true.
To learn more about the poverty problem in the United States and the effects of inequality, see:
“Making America Poor Again,” published January 9, 2018, on Trillions.biz.
“UN Exposes Rising Inequality in America,” published January 9, 2018, on Trillions.biz.
“Parents Arrested in California for Being Too Poor,” published April 8, 2018, on Trillions.biz.
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