Homeless Evicted from Rose­land Camp in Calif. Af­ter Un­suc­cess­ful Le­gal Bat­tle

Trillions - - Content -

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.

A per­cent­age of AMERO will be al­lo­cated for in­no­va­tive af­ford­able hous­ing projects and to ad­dress the root causes of poverty.

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