A homeless man representing himself in federal court scored a hat trick against the city of Sausalito and its highest-ranking officials during three hearings in March.
Phil Deschamps, 35, resides in a tent with his two cats at the city-sanctioned homeless encampment on the Marinship tennis courts. On Feb. 15, Deschamps filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent Sausalito from acting upon their threats to remove his tent and a small structure for his kitties that he set up between the tent and tennis court fence.
Judge Edward Chen ruled repeatedly for Deschamps and his felines over the course of the three hearings, although the city was represented by four different attorneys, including a partner from the international law firm Sheppard Mullin.
The court granted Deschamps permission to use the tent he purchased, rather than a smaller city-issued tent. The city must provide a charging station for the encampment. Deschamps’ possessions, which Sausalito police officers confiscated, must be returned upon his request.
In addition, Chen ordered the city to purchase two large cages of Deschamps’ choice to allow the sibling kitties to have an outdoor space behind the tent. Cat and Early can climb around the tall towers with perches; however, they do not have to live in the cages. The concession for Deschamps is that the structure behind his tent will be three feet high, rather than the six feet he preferred.
It remains a mystery as to why Sausalito fought Deschamps on these issues, especially when Chen sent the parties to mediation twice over the last month. The city, it seems, will soon have many opportunities to determine whether to persist with this uncompromising approach to lawsuits.
Homeless people, representing themselves, have recently filed seven lawsuits in federal court against Sausalito and city officials, according to court records reviewed by the Pacific Sun. And more may follow.
“There are a lot of people with grievances that they want to bring to the court’s attention,” Robbie Powelson, president of the Marin Homeless Union, said in an interview. “If the city wants to be petty, we’ll take it before a judge.”
The judges presiding over these cases in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California seem to find compelling arguments in the lawsuits filed by the homeless people. To date, the court has dismissed only one lawsuit.
The claimants follow templates available from reputable organizations, such as the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco. Without access to computers or printers, some of the lawsuits are submitted handwritten. Others visit the library to type their claims and responses.
The remaining six cases allege a variety of civil rights violations, from the city refusing an injured homeless man access to a bathroom to the city wantonly evicting homeless people from the encampment. Powelson, too, has filed a federal lawsuit against Sausalito.
Haley Allen, who has been homeless since she was 13 years old, filed a lawsuit against Sausalito after her car was impounded and her belongings seized while she was in a local rehabilitation center for unhealthy alcohol use. In addition, the city refused to allow Allen to resume living in the encampment when she returned from rehab.
Judge William Orrick ordered that Allen be given access to the belongings in her vehicle within 24 hours. The other issues raised in the lawsuit are under consideration.
It is not just Sausalito facing the federal court’s scrutiny. Two homeless people in San Rafael have filed civil rights lawsuits against the city and its officials.
“We don’t want to keep fighting,” Powelson said. “People want to live at peace. Everyone is looking for a solution, except the cities.”