• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

Lawyers warn against legal action over Midway camp crackdown

Two attorneys have formally asked the city to stop enforcing laws against homeless residents at a Midway District homeless camp this weekend, before police resume ticketing on Monday.

Attorneys Scott Dreher and Coleen Cusack sent Mayor Todd Gloria and other city officials a letter on Saturday advising them that they represent homeless San Diegans staying at Camp Midway which has grown significantly over the past of the last year. They warned the city not to pursue a plan this week to enforce crimes related to homelessness, alleging the expected crackdown would violate residents’ constitutional rights and interfere with the Feb. 24 homeless count in the city. region.

The city took enforcement action anyway on Monday, citing four people for homelessness-related crimes and warning eight others.

But Gloria agreed to meet with the lawyers this week at their request and a spokesperson said the mayor had already ordered police and city workers to suspend law enforcement and camp clearing operations. of homeless a few days before the point count next week. , before receiving the Saturday letter.

the Lawyers’ letter followed a warning late last week that police would resume ticketing and arrests at a camp on Sports Arena Boulevard after weeks of halted enforcement amid a spike in COVID cases at city-funded homeless shelters led the city to no longer welcome newcomers. Early last week, the city reopened shelterspaving the way for the application to resume citywide, as officers must have accommodation beds to offer before proceeding.

The two attorneys and other attorneys for weeks monitored the cleanup and law enforcement operations at the camp between Rosecrans Street and Pacific Highway which at one time was houses about 183 people and 94 tents. As of Monday morning, advocates estimated the camp’s population had shrunk by around a third following intensified efforts to clear the town and warnings that officers would crack down this week. The city began twice-weekly cleanup efforts at the camp this month.

Cusack and Dreher, who filed lawsuits against the city that resulted in several settlements that dictate how the city conducts law enforcement and cleanup operations at homeless camps, warned Gloria, City Attorney Mara Elliott, Police Chief David Nisleit and Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell that homelessness-related law enforcement at Camp Midway would put the city in legal jeopardy.

“We believe that these clearance and enforcement actions, and the threats thereof, violate the constitutional rights of these homeless residents of the Sports Arena Boulevard encampment, as they have nowhere to go or be,” wrote Dreher and Cusack.

In their letter, both lawyers argued that to carry out the execution would run counter to the Federal Court of Appeals Decision Martin v. Boise requiring cities to have adequate shelter for homeless residents before citing them, several legal settlements previously negotiated with Dreher, and public health advice discouraging enforcement during the pandemic.

Lawyers also raised concerns that the app could hamper the region February 24 Homeless Census by dispersing the inhabitants the week before the count. Defenders – and Gloria himself – raised similar concerns after the 2019 census when police law enforcement increased significantly downtown in the days preceding the count.

“Please cease all encampment permits at least until the February 24 count (point in time) is complete and waive all criminal enforcement measures (citations, escalation, evacuation orders, etc. .) against the homeless to be homeless,” Dreher and Cusack wrote in their Saturday letter. “So let’s sit down and talk about some of these actions and solutions. will no doubt be solved like Martin v. Boise – costing the city money, time and respect.

Gloria spokesman Dave Rolland wrote in an email that Gloria had already ordered city police and environmental service workers to stop enforcing laws related to homelessness and cleanup. homeless camps from February 21 to 24 because the mayor “wants an accurate count of people”. homelessness”.

Rolland wrote that last year the mayor ordered police not to enforce illegal lodging and encroachment — laws associated with tents and tarps in public spaces — when no bed shelter is not available. But he said the mayor sticks to law enforcement when beds are available.

“When shelter is available, the mayor believes the city should do everything possible to help people accept it, because in addition to protecting people from the dangers of life on the streets, shelter and services accompanying social benefits represent a pathway to permanent housing,” Rolland wrote.

Dreher and Gloria’s office has confirmed that they are now scheduled to meet.

“They have reached out to meet and hopefully the meetings can be productive,” Dreher said.

Two San Diego police officers watch as two residents gather their belongings while clearing out a homeless camp on September 28, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Leslie Wolf Branscomb, a spokeswoman for Elliott, said the city attorney’s office was “working with his client” to resolve the issues raised in the attorneys’ letter.

On Monday afternoon, city spokeswoman Ashley Bailey said three people staying at the camp had received infraction tickets and one had received a misdemeanor citation. Eight received verbal warnings for illegal lodging or encroachment. Every action is part of the so-called phased-in model. A fourth interaction with a person who does not accept the offer of an open shelter bed can lead to an arrest.

Bailey wrote in an email that four more of the 17 people police interacted with Monday morning were taken to shelters in the city.

She said police only issue tickets to homeless residents when they refuse open shelter beds, and enforcement stops each day when shelter beds are full.

Bailey also noted that the city has overseen an intensified outreach effort at Camp Midway over the past month, providing shelter for dozens of residents staying at the camp.

“The city continues to emphasize a compassionate approach; however, it will balance this with the need to address ongoing health and safety issues at the encampments,” Bailey wrote.

Gloria’s office at the end of last month tweetedthat his team was determined to carry out a large-scale clean-up in the area after outreach workers learned that several people had stomach illnesses and reported that residents were “living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions”.

Midway Business and Building Ownersalso raised concerns During months.

A handful of camp residents previously said Voice of San Diego they wanted to get off the streets but worried that the city’s shelters wouldn’t meet their needs – or didn’t want to leave behind pets or friends in the camp.

Bryan “Cowboy” Rhoades, 51, said he worried a crowded city shelter might not be suitable for his beloved dog or that other residents might steal his belongings.

“I don’t want to be housed with a group of people,” Rhoades said.

But Anthony Cooper, 51, and his fiancée Elizabeth Shaw, 34, were preparing to move into a Project Alpha shelter on Monday after interacting with police. Officers helped load their belongings into a van where they could move some items into storage.

Cooper said the couple had been at Sports Arena camp for three months but had not been offered shelter.

“We tried to get help, but nobody helped us,” Cooper said.

On Monday, Cusack watched as the couple collected their belongings and police gathered around the tents. She distributed pamphlets explaining the implications of Martin v. Boise, public health advice and the constitutional rights of homeless residents.

Cusack sent a separate memo Monday to San Diego police outlining accommodation options that 30 homeless patrons who stayed at Camp Sports Arena would accept. She also listed constitutional violations that she said would be associated with enforcement action.

“Please be advised that I have been retained by the following individuals to represent their legal interests in conjunction with the threat of criminal action at the Sports Arena encampment where each resides out of necessity, having no non-public legal option which is more sure,” Cusack wrote.