Almost every week, the City of Sausalito sends a cadre of attorneys into federal court to battle with the Sausalito Homeless Union lawyer and homeless individuals. Last week was no exception.
Anthony Prince, the Sausalito Homeless Union attorney, became livid when he learned of serious allegations against Urban Alchemy, the nonprofit hired by the city to manage its sanctioned homeless encampment.
The claims, printed in the Pacific Sun on June 1, were made by more than 10 current and former residents of the Sausalito homeless camp. The campers alleged that Urban Alchemy employees sexually assaulted female campers, used drugs on the job and distributed methamphetamine.
Prince demanded that Sausalito remove Urban Alchemy immediately and begin an investigation into the allegations. While those actions would be a reasonable start, Sausalito declined to give Urban Alchemy the boot early, although the contract runs out in about two weeks.
“We need to get our people out of harm’s way,” Prince said in an interview. “That’s the reason we filed for a TRO [temporary restraining order] to force Sausalito to get rid of them.”
In court documents filed by Sausalito last week, the city manager and two police officers commended Urban Alchemy, which employs 1,100 people, most of whom have spent 20-plus years in prison. It is the camp residents who can’t be left alone because the camp “deteriorates” when Urban Alchemy isn’t there, according to the city officials.
Never mind that the time frame the officials gave for the deterioration was just after the atmospheric river storm leveled the encampment last October. And even if there is a mess until a new management team is hired to replace Urban Alchemy, it seems less consequential than what the campers allege has been happening.
The Pacific Sun provided Sausalito Mayor Janelle Kellman with the campers’ allegations of sexual predation and drug use by Urban Alchemy in late May. In an emailed response, Kellman failed to mention the alleged victims–the homeless people living in the city-sanctioned and managed encampment.
“Sausalito’s contract with Urban Alchemy will end on June 30th and we appreciate their service to our city,” Kellman wrote. “The City of Sausalito hired Urban Alchemy with the understanding that the organization has a commitment to hiring previously incarcerated individuals and providing them with a second chance and a job opportunity. In a state with a recidivism rate of 46 percent, re-entry employers like these play a critical role. Providing re-entry and a second chance shows a commitment to empathy and treating others with dignity, a direct reflection of Sausalito’s core values. We are committed to having compassion for all.”
Kellman’s statement certainly raises the question of whether Sausalito considers homeless people worthy of the same compassion and a second chance.
There’s history between the City of Sausalito and the Sausalito Homeless Union. They have been embroiled in litigation for almost a year-and-a-half. The Union alleged Sausalito violated the civil rights of homeless people by enacting two laws limiting camping within the city limits. Sausalito didn’t blink, and the Union filed a lawsuit in February 2021. Since then, the encampment has been under the watchful eyes of two federal judges.
The court hearing for the TRO took place last Friday. Prince, a one-man force, represented the Homeless Union. Sausalito sent in Alex Merritt, a partner in Sheppard Mullin, one of the top ranked law firms in the world based on annual billings.
With legal fees, the recent Urban Alchemy contract for $463,602 and other miscellaneous expenses, Sausalito has spent more than $1.5 million on the encampment. As Prince pointed out, that amount of money could have housed quite a few people.
During the hearing, Merritt opined that the city can’t handle the encampment on its own. The police department is losing staff, and morale is low due to the existence of the homeless people and the camp. In addition, the two Urban Alchemy employees accused of sexual assault are no longer stationed in Sausalito, Merritt said.
Yet there’s been no investigation into whether there are other alleged victims. Many women don’t come forward after a sexual assault, especially if the alleged perpetrator is in a position of power over them.
“There’s been an intensification of hostilities since the Pacific Sun article came out,” Prince said. “Our people feel threatened. Drugs are still coming in. Methamphetamine is being brought in.”
Merritt emphasized the Urban Alchemy employees accused of sexual assault were removed from the camp, with one fired months ago and the other moved to a San Francisco encampment in April.
Prince maintained that Urban Alchemy continues to move the offending employees from camp to camp, and the City can’t ensure that another bad apple won’t turn up in Sausalito. That didn’t phase Merritt because he said the city had asked Urban Alchemy to extend the contract for a couple of months.
After 30 minutes of arguments, Chen made his ruling, which was essentially a compromise. Although Urban Alchemy can stay until June 30, Sausalito cannot extend the contract.
Chen said Sausalito must keep the two men alleged to have committed sexual assault out of the encampment. In addition, the city will allow the campers to file complaints and reports of criminal conduct with the police, and the police will promptly begin investigations.
On Sunday, Prince went to the encampment and sat with three campers as they filed reports with the police. According to the campers, the police have refused to take reports from them in the past.
The two Sausalito police officers were polite and friendly. They assured Prince there will be an investigation into the allegation that a young Urban Alchemy man punched a senior camper in the face. Two other people reported theft of their belongings.
These won’t be the last reports filed, according to Prince. While some campers aren’t comfortable speaking with the police, and others are ambivalent about holding someone accountable, Prince believes more people will come forward.
A few of the encampment residents said they believe the Urban Alchemy employees are also victims. Others say they are perpetrators.
“It’s like putting the bully in charge of the schoolyard,” Jewel Eggink, a camper, said. “That just doesn’t seem like a good idea.”