Sacramento Homelessness Feud Signals Growing Desperation as City, County Officials Clash
As Democratic-led cities across the country grapple with homelessness, a Sacramento district attorney’s decision to sue the city may mark a new era in law enforcement.
Overflowing garbage, indecent exposure, public defecation: These are the sights residents of California’s capital city describe seeing in front of their homes and businesses. The Sacramento County district attorney, Thien Ho, wants it to stop and is vowing to hold the city accountable for not enforcing its own public ordinances.
Mr. Ho’s lawsuit against the city of Sacramento, filed Tuesday, is the latest action in a months-long feud between city officials and the county district attorney to address the city’s estimated 9,278 homeless people.
As Democratic-led cities across the country grapple with homelessness, Mr. Ho’s legal action — which he believes to be unprecedented — may mark a new era for district attorneys frustrated with city officials who aren’t enforcing the law.
Mr. Ho alleges the city violated California civil code because it “allowed, created, and enabled a public safety crisis” regarding homeless individuals.
“In the last seven years, our unhoused population in Sacramento has exploded over 250 percent. We have more homeless people in Sacramento than in San Francisco,” Mr. Ho said in an announcement Tuesday afternoon, noting that they often live in “conditions typical of Third World countries.”
In July, Mr. Ho’s office sent out a survey asking Sacramento residents about how homeless encampments affect their quality of life. “The responses were heartwrenching,” Mr. Ho said, describing stories from residents who have witnessed theft, vandalism, needles, and feces on their way to school, work, or home.
“After nearly 3,000 responses that we received, my office sent the mayor a letter asking the city to do a few simple things,” he said.
The letter gave the city 30 days to enforce city ordinances by clearing unlawful encampments, creating more temporary shelter areas known as “safe grounds,” adding day-time camping restrictions, and completing an audit of the millions of dollars spent on the homeless by the city. “To date, the city has not fully implemented any of these proposals,” he added.
The city “looks forward” to responding in court, a city attorney, Susana Alcala Wood, says in response to Mr. Ho.
“The City has attempted to work with the District Attorney multiple times in recent months, stating that collaboration is the best path forward,” Ms. Alcala says. “However, it sadly appears the DA would rather point fingers and cast blame than partner to achieve meaningful solutions for our community.”
Sacramento has started approving some safe grounds, city-owned land equipped with resources, such as trailers and tents, on which homeless people may live temporarily. The first site, “Camp Resolution,” was approved earlier this year, allowing a resident-governed encampment of about 60 individuals to live on city property. A second similar site was approved in the summer after more than 700 people applied to move to Camp Resolution.
“You may not realize it, but Sacramento’s homeless problem is one of the nation’s worst,” the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director, Tim Anaya, wrote about Mr. Ho’s initial request to the city. “It’s clear what little is being done today in Sacramento isn’t working. Residents should not expect much improvement unless city officials follow the demands of Ho and actually start enforcing the law.”
Yet not everyone on the ground agrees with Mr. Ho’s method. “Ho was elected to prosecute criminals,” a Sacramento Bee editorial writer, Marcos Bretón, argued in an op-ed. “He was not elected to threaten other elected leaders because he doesn’t like how they are dealing with homelessness.”