Holding Pattern

Sausalito’s pricey homeless encampment

Sausalito spent $500,000 in less than a year on the homeless encampment located in Marinship Park, City Manager Chris Zapata said at a city council meeting last week.

Unfortunately, none of the money was allocated toward housing or social services for the approximately 40 residents of the tent encampment. The bulk of the funds were used for legal fees to fight an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city by the Sausalito/Marin Homeless Union.

Other expenses include moving the encampment from its original location in downtown Sausalito, setting up the Marinship Park site and a contract with Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit group hired for “daily monitoring” of the camp, according to Zapata.

At least one councilmember, Susan Cleveland-Knowles, seemed stunned by the amount.

“Our costs on the encampment are now north of half-a-million dollars,” Cleveland-Knowles said. “So, I just want to absorb that.”

Anthony Prince, attorney for the Sausalito/Marin Homeless Union, was also astounded. He wants those resources spent on housing for the campers.

“How far could that money go to put people in motel rooms, at least during the pandemic?” Prince asked. “It’s disgraceful, spending taxpayer money in this fashion, and inconsistent with the city crying ‘poor.’ They’re lining the pockets of an international law firm, Sheppard Mullin.”

The six-figure spending continues. Last week, the city council unanimously approved the allocation of no more than $185,000 for up to six months of 24/7 security and unspecified social services for the Marinship Park camp. The draft resolution proposed to spend the entire amount on security; however, during council discussion, the members agreed to provide outreach services as well.

The need for security resulted from concerns about activities in and around the encampment. Nearby property owners have reported various issues, including arson, theft and vandalism, according to Councilmember Melissa Blausten.

Meanwhile, campers complain of misconduct by the Sausalito Police Department. At least two independent investigations, one criminal, were opened last month into the treatment of local homeless residents by the Sausalito Police Department. Holly Wild, who resided at the encampment, accused a civilian employee of the agency of throwing rocks at her. Police officers refused at least twice to take reports about the incident, although her statement was finally accepted when she delivered it to the police station, Wild said.

Security offers a Band Aid approach for the problems. The solution is to provide housing and support services for the camp residents.

Since the inception of the camp in late December, only one homeless person has been housed, according to city officials. Camper Mike Arnold, who served in the Gulf War during Desert Storm, received housing from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The responsibility of providing housing for the homeless falls on the County of Marin. It allocates housing by prioritizing the most vulnerable people and veterans. A severe shortage of funding exists for housing and support services.

Currently, there are 680 people on the waiting list for permanent supportive housing in Marin, although some may have found homes or moved from Marin, according to Ashley Hart McIntyre, homelessness policy analyst for the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.

The number appears to be a moving target, as the list contained 500 people in May. While the number may fluctuate, no one disputes the long wait for housing.

“We have placed 400 people experiencing chronic homelessness in permanent supportive housing over the last four years,” McIntyre said in an email.

With permanent supportive housing, a case manager visits the household regularly to assist with life skills, such as teaching the resident how to pay rent and grocery shop. Over time, most residents gain self-sufficiency. Other services may include connecting individuals with education, job programs and mental health treatment, depending upon their needs.

Permanent supportive housing is a proven success nationwide. In Marin, 95% of the people in the program remain housed.

Sausalito Mayor Jill Hoffman expressed frustration with the county’s system for failing to place anyone from the Sausalito encampment in housing.

“Yeah, I think we’re very close to calling on the county to institute emergency measures to address the ability to rehouse individuals who are without shelter,” Hoffman said. “We need to engage in a more aggressive manner with our regional partners to come up with a solution for this problem.”

The homeless are also discouraged by the lack of available housing in Marin. Disabled people and families with young children live in the Sausalito camp and they want out, according to Robbie Powelson, camp resident and president of the Marin Homeless Union.

“Lots of people jump through the county’s hoops and don’t get anything,” Powelson said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. We have people with serious illnesses, and they are passed over for housing. I don’t see any logic to it.”

Prince, the attorney representing the encampment in the lawsuit against the City of Sausalito, says with no realistic access to housing for his clients from Marin County, Sausalito should step in and provide it. The parties are now in settlement negotiations and Prince intends to make housing part of any settlement.

“We mean business with this lawsuit,” Prince said. “The city has resources to provide actual housing. If they can spend $500,000 and $185,000, they can at least put people in hotels.”

The city council made no mention of providing rooms or any other housing for the homeless during the meeting. Hoffman said they are trying to engage with other agencies in Southern Marin to combat homelessness. One agency they are trying to seek assistance from is the Richardson Bay Regional Agency (RBRA), which includes Belvedere, Tiburon, Mill Valley and unincorporated Southern Marin.

The RBRA patrols most of the waters of Richardson Bay, while Sausalito patrols its own area. Over the past couple of years, the RBRA has been seizing and destroying boats. Although it claims the confiscated vessels are marine debris, many served as homes. The displaced mariners often move into the Sausalito homeless encampment. About one third of the camp residents once lived anchored-out on the Bay, according to Powelson.

“We view this as a resource issue,” Hoffman said. “Most of this is tied to what’s going on out on the water out in RBRA, the Richardson Bay Regional Agency waters, not Sausalito waters. I think we’ve had positive feedback from those member agencies to help.”

Prince just wants the encampment residents housed as soon as possible. The people of Sausalito need to think about what would happen if they became homeless, he says.

“Middle class people find themselves out of work, too,” Prince said. “Talk to people in the encampment, who only yesterday thought they were immune.”

Nikki Silverstein
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