Sausalito Threatens to Move Downtown Homeless Encampment

The Sausalito City Council has been busy during the last two weeks. At a special meeting on Friday, Feb. 5, the council voted 4-1 to relocate the homeless encampment from its visible location near Dunphy Park to the less noticeable area of Marinship Park.

Showing no mercy, the resolution also banned daytime camping. The residents must break camp 30 minutes after sunrise and cannot set up their tents again until 30 minutes before sunset. The city placed storage lockers at Marinship Park for their belongings during the day—unfortunately, the lockers are exposed to the elements. In addition, the ground at Marinship Park is soggy after a rain, making it even more difficult.

An 82-year-old Army veteran resides in the encampment next to Dunphy Park. A woman needing hip and knee surgery also lives there. Another camper suffers from arthritis. Pitching and striking their tents daily won’t be easy.

Shall the campers sit out in the rain and cold during the next storm? The Sausalito Public Library is still closed. Most of them can’t afford to buy food or beverages all day while they wait out the inclement weather in a coffee shop.

And let’s not forget the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), encampments should “remain where they are,” to prevent infectious disease spread.

Never mind those pesky concerns. Last week, the city served the encampment with an eviction notice instructing campers to move to Marinship Park on Tuesday, Feb. 16. 

In response, the campers engaged attorney Anthony Prince of the California Homeless Union. Prince emailed the Sausalito City Council last week of his intention to file in federal district court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the displacement of the encampment. In an interview, Prince said he expected to file legal paperwork on Tuesday, Feb. 16, days after a disappointing conversation with a lawyer the city hired to defend itself. 

“We tried to negotiate a suspension of the ordinance pending discussion. The city rejected that,” Prince said. 

The outcome of Prince’s injunction request was unclear at the time of the Pacific Sun’s Tuesday print deadline; however, Sausalito Police Chief John Rohrbacher visited the camp on Tuesday morning and announced he would return in a few hours to remove the residents.

A federal judge recently granted an injunction for a similar situation in Santa Cruz, citing the Covid-19 pandemic. It prevented the city manager from following through with his order to close an encampment of almost 200 people.

Even with the threat of legal action and the success of the Santa Cruz case, the city of Sausalito persists with its uncompassionate plan to shut down the camp beside Dunphy Park and ban daytime camping citywide.

In serving the eviction notice, the council behaved in a shortsighted manner to appease the NIMBYs complaining about the downtown encampment. 

The NIMBYs have a great presence on the social media site Nextdoor, with hundreds of comments denigrating the Sausalito encampment and its occupants. One mean-spirited poster discouraged providing support to the campers: “For every person that’s helped, two more will arrive.”

It appears the NIMBYs are organizing. I was recently invited to join a Nextdoor group called “Sausalito residents against tent encampment at Dunphy park (and elsewhere).” Their mission is to continue pressuring the city to dismantle the tent encampment and put measures in place to prevent other encampments.

The group may be unaware the city is restricted by a recent legal decision. In Martin v. Boise, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed that people cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property when a city is unable to offer them a suitable alternative shelter option.

Perhaps an introduction to a couple of people living in the encampment would help folks understand the plight of those experiencing homelessness.

Sherie Colo, 64, once had a husband, a daughter and a successful career. As the statewide coordinator for a Florida program serving women and children exposed to drugs, she was responsible for fundraising and advocacy.

Life began to change for Colo after her bipolar diagnosis in 1992. The following year, she divorced her husband and left their daughter in his care.

Feeling overwhelmed by her job, she quit. Her aunt took her in for a while, but Colo ended up homeless in 1996. For the most part, she’s remained without shelter for the last 25 years.

Colo moved into the Sausalito camp about three weeks ago, after a 40-day stay in the behavioral health department at MarinHealth Medical Center in Greenbrae. In addition to her bipolar disorder, Colo suffers from cataracts, migraines and arthritis.

“Big fun that is,” she said. “Especially when you’re homeless.”

Colo said she went through Marin County’s required assessment interview for those experiencing homelessness; however, she’s received few services. Since landing at the camp, the county has paid for her stay in Motel 6 for two nights. She knows there’s a long waiting list for housing.

Like other camp residents, Colo is adamant she doesn’t want to move. She especially doesn’t care for the daytime camping ban.

“I can’t take down my tent every day,” she said. “I need a cane just to get up. The city council doesn’t care about the homeless.”

Fellow camper Mike Arnold, 51, is also waiting for services; however, his will come from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He served in the Gulf War during Desert Storm, he said.

A VA representative visited the camp and informed Arnold his status as a veteran gives him priority for housing. Unfortunately, veterans also get put on a waiting list.

Before Arnold moved to the Sausalito encampment three weeks ago, he resided on his boat anchored in Richardson Bay. Living on the water comes with its own set of problems.

The Richardson’s Bay Regional Authority (RBRA), a local government agency, enforces the applicable 72-hour anchorage law. Vessels in violation or deemed as marine debris may be seized by RBRA harbormaster Curtis Havel. The agency crushes the boats it considers derelict.

The RBRA policies established an adversarial relationship between the mariners and Havel. It’s the reason Arnold left the anchorage to live on land.

“I sold my boat to someone braver,” Arnold said. “I can’t afford to fight these people and I couldn’t constantly run from Havel. This is a war.”

Arnold wants housing and is prepared to work for it. He graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta and worked as a graphic artist, but he’ll wash dishes and mop floors, he said.

These are just two of the 19 residents at the camp. Each has a unique story about how they ended up living in a tent next to Dunphy Park.

After visiting the encampment several times and meeting most of the campers, it’s clear to me these folks need a boost to get back on their feet. We live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. What does it say about us if we don’t lend a hand? Not much. Not much at all.

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Nikki Silverstein
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