Jul 12, 2019
By Adrianne Lauby and Gregory Fearon
An 18-month-long lawsuit by Santa Rosa homeless people and activists in San Francisco federal court entered a truce this morning, as the City of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County agreed to implement many of the activists’ demands for one year. Among other changes, the immediate seizure and destruction of homeless people's personal belongings by law enforcement and other public servants will stop.
The government also agreed to make enforcement of homeless-focused laws include the provision of reasonable accommodations for disabled homeless people in humane, safe shelter. In his order, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria noted that, “future enforcement actions against homeless people in Sonoma County might be restricted by the absence of adequate shelter.”
When the yearlong experiment ends, the parties will either make a more detailed agreement, or square off in court again.
This order will help prevent the criminalization of homeless people, which only makes it harder for them to get off the streets.
“I’m dedicating this success to Deborah Drake, a homeless woman who lived with cancer,” said Adrienne Lauby, a founding member of Homeless Action! “Ms Drake joined the lawsuit and testified at our first hearing because she wanted something better for homeless people. She was fortunate enough to be given a room where she died with some dignity.”
The agreement includes the assertion that, “For some people (particularly those with certain mental health conditions), a barracks-style placement may not be adequate based on their individual circumstances.” Given that, generally, the only open beds in Sonoma County are in that type of shelter, activists are hopeful that other options can and will be arranged.
The injunction, which takes affect on August 12, applies to park rangers of the Sonoma County Regional Parks, the parks and recreation departments of the City and the County, the Santa Rosa Police Department and other governmental agencies, contractors or departments that provide services to homeless individuals. The agreement does not include the Sonoma County Sheriff and his deputies.
“We don’t know why the Sheriff chose not to be part of this agreement,” said Homeless Action! member Scott Wagner, “We hope the Sheriff will follow the lead of the Santa Rosa Police and to take similar steps. We’ll be asking to talk to them.”
“Nicholle Vannucci, Ellen Brown and Shannon Young, homeless and formerly homeless people who joined this suit, acted courageously and with great commitment to stand up for the homeless community,” Gregory Fearon, Homeless Action! member said. “I’m so proud to be associated with them.”
“We’re happy the city and county understood the human rights issue and have been acting in good faith,” Lauby said. “There are benchmarks and specific procedures to develop but this means a change for the better.”
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