.Sausalito threatens to close the city-sanctioned homeless encampment

The City of Sausalito’s outside counsel has created a stir in the homeless encampment at Marinship Park by saying he’s intending to file a motion in federal court to close the camp down permanently.

The city-sanctioned encampment is under a court order, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen, to remain open. That same order prevents homeless people from camping anywhere in the city, except for Marinship.

In the past several months, the Sausalito police have barred new people from entering the homeless encampment, now located on the Marinship tennis courts. Catch-22: They can’t sleep in the designated encampment, and they can’t legally sleep anywhere else in the city.

Individuals have filed lawsuits against the city over the issue. Chen ruled against Sausalito in most cases. The city is now providing newcomers with vouchers for motels located outside of Sausalito.

The number of homeless people in the camp has dwindled from a high of about 45 people to 20. And the remaining folks aren’t happy. There are two women in wheelchairs living on the tennis courts. A man with cancer, who is receiving experimental chemotherapy treatments, was denied entry.

Sausalito officials have repeatedly told campers the city is working with the county to try to find housing. A few people received Section 8 housing vouchers, though they are quick to say Sausalito didn’t help them obtain the vouchers. 

Robbie Powelson, a member of the Sausalito/Marin Homeless Union, believes Sausalito is waging psychological warfare against the campers. He may be right.

The Sausalito City Council contracted with Urban Alchemy, a controversial nonprofit that hires former convicts, to manage the camp. Even after allegations surfaced that some Urban Alchemy employees had sexually assaulted vulnerable homeless women and brought drugs into the camp, the city refused to cancel the contract before it expired in late June.

Chen is possibly giving Sausalito’s high-priced attorneys a preview of how he will rule on a motion to close the camp. The judge continues to bring up Martin v. Boise, a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which states cities must allow homeless people to sleep on public property unless it can provide the folks with shelter.

Last week, Chen ruled against Sausalito in a motion it filed to dismiss a case brought against them by Arthur Bruce, a homeless man. After the city refused to allow Bruce on the tennis courts, he purchased a parking sticker to sleep in his car at the tennis court parking lots. The police revoked it. Chen ordered the city to issue a new parking sticker to Bruce and the case will continue to wend its way through court.

The City of Sausalito has spent over $1.5 million on the encampment, although much of the money has gone to Urban Alchemy and legal fees, rather than on services for the campers. The former and current Sausalito mayors have repeatedly told the Pacific Sun the city is compassionate toward its homeless residents. Perhaps they could find a way to demonstrate it.

Nikki Silverstein
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