Archive for May, 2008

Recently, during record-hot weather in Southern Humboldt, the County Sheriff”s Department openly declared and began an aggressive attack , an “operation”, criminalizing and displacing ‘houseless’ people who live outside in Redway and Garberville. People sleeping on private land, with permission from the owner, were arrested for trespass. People sleeping on public land, while no shelter exists in Southern Humboldt, were also arrested for trespass! The Sheriff’s stopped people profiled as “homeless” who were walking in town, and questioned them, intimidated them, told them they if they returned to their sleeping places, they would be arrested. They also told these same people (in 100 degree weather) that they had 3 options: jail, the mental hospital, or leaving town. And the deputies confiscated their survival, medical, and personal gear.

In Northern Humboldt, a slightly more urban setting, there are no legal places for a person to sleep without paying money. Continuous harassment by police and city municipal codes attempt to prohibit particular people (wearing a backpack, looking houseless) from resting on public lands, from sitting in public places, and from having pets. The only “shelters” that exist are unavailable to most houseless people, and recently, a well-organized camp in Redwood Park was raided. Every night and day, people without shelter are criminalized for carrying out necessary life-sustaining conduct. Regularly the police confiscate, destroy, or hold onto peoples’ survival gear, their humble and only possessions.

There is not enough housing or services for every homeless person in Humboldt, yet officials take the meanest approach possible, forcing people out into town and ordering them to keep moving or go to jail!

We can expect more veterans of war and victims of the mortgage crisis to be a rapidly increasing part of the houseless population.

Last year, local group PEOPLE PROJECT, through an organized encampment protest on “public” land, exposed for many, the current conditions and policies inflicted against people without conventional shelter. The City of Arcata and Arcata Police, in conjunction with the Sheriff’sDept., the District Attorney’s Office, and 5 other police agencies, led an unnecessary raid on the encampment protest after a long night of heavy rain. The encampment was providing otherwise safe rest for 55 people of all ages.

There is not enough low-income housing in any town of Humboldt County (or in any community). There is little to no shelter space, and no campground exists where people can safely sleep without harassment from police. And the policies of cruelty, which attempt to disappear many people in our communities, perpetuate civilian violence against such vulnerable people who, without housing, must survive in full sight of the public. Youth are taught, through shameful example, to treat houseless people inhumanely and speak to them without decency or respect. Meanwhile, rampant prejudice spreads and excessive tax dollars are wasted on ‘zero tolerance policing’ as business people, parents, politicians, and police blame houseless folks for every local problem, from riverside garbage (i.e. dumped refrigerators) to teenage drug addiction!

We are four active women in the community, from Northern and Southern Humboldt, who have been documenting abuses against houseless people and speaking with various folks about the increasingly oppressive climate. Our core group has many years of experience and knowledge regarding local laws, county history, police activity, gentrification, and most importantly, the houseless ‘experience’ in Humboldt County. We invite others to meet and discuss future plans concerning ongoing raids on public and private lands that are displacing community members. We are also seeking Civil and Human Rights attorneys to join our efforts.

We recognize that the County has been criminalizing and displacing, not only houseless folks, but also poor people living on private rural properties (“code enforcement” victims) and Indian reservations, in addition to undocumented immigrants. Thus, we welcome discussion that acknowledges the intersections of these situations and the need to address all actions which target the most vulnerable people in our communities.

If you are interested in meeting with us or finding out more, please call:
in SoHum: Kathy Epling (707) 923-4488
in Northern Humboldt: Kathy Anderson (707) 444-3155
or email: peoplesarc@gmail.com

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Federal Judge Rules City of Fresno Violated the Rights of Homeless Residents
Posted by Mike Rhodes ( MikeRhodes@Comcast.net )
Tuesday May 13th, 2008 6:06 PM

A summary judgment was issued on May 12, 2008 in the lawsuit by homeless people against the City of Fresno. The statement below is from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, two of the law firms representing the plaintiffs in this case. The trial is scheduled to begin on June 10. The photo below is Pam Kincaid, speaking at the Press Conference at Fresno City Hall, announcing the filing of the lawsuit (October 17, 2006).

Federal Judge Rules City of Fresno
Violated the Rights of Homeless Residents

Destruction of property declared unlawful seizure

Fresno – A U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of California has ruled that the City of Fresno’s practice of immediately seizing and destroying the personal possessions of homeless residents violates the constitutional right of every person to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

“The question is no longer whether the City will have to pay damages to class members, but how much,” said attorney Oren Sellstrom of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. “Given that many homeless people lost everything they owned in these illegal sweeps – including their medicines and items of tremendous sentimental value – we believe the damage award will be significant.”

“The Court’s ruling in this class-action lawsuit makes it clear that our Constitution protects the rights of everybody, rich or poor,” said attorney Michael Risher of the ACLU of Northern California. “It should send a strong message to other cities throughout our country that if they violate the rights of their most vulnerable residents, they will be held accountable.”

Six plaintiffs provided testimony in the case, Kincaid v. City of Fresno, on behalf of the entire class, which includes all homeless people in Fresno who had their property seized and destroyed by the City or by the California Department of Transportation. The case was bought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the firm of Heller, Ehrman, LLP.

The case was filed in October 2006. The court issued a temporary restraining order against the City of Fresno two days later; in December 2006 it issued a preliminary injunction after hearing evidence from both sides over the course of five days.

During oral argument on April 25, 2008, Judge Oliver W. Wanger declared that, “…the practice of announce, strike, seize [and] destroy immediately is against the law.” (Excerpted from transcript by court reporter.)

Note to reporters and editors: Video footage and photographs of city workers using machinery and dump trucks to destroy the personal property of homeless residents are available on the ACLU-NC’s website, along with the legal documents in the case: http://www.aclunc.org/cases/active_cases/kincaid_v._city_of_fresno.shtml

Synopses of plaintiffs declarations before the Court

Excerpted from declarations found here: http://www.aclunc.org/cases/active_cases/kincaid_v._city_of_fresno.shtml

Lead Plaintiff Pamela Kincaid died in August of 2007. Kincaid occasionally stayed at the only women’s shelter in Fresno, but she suffered from claustrophobia, which made it difficult for her to remain there. When sanitation workers and police officers seized her belongings, Kincaid lost her birth certificate, her address book, photos of her sister, daughter and mother, and a toolbox with tools she used for the recycling and crafts work she does to earn money, among other items.

“Before I became homeless, I used to have a house and a job. I lost both when I developed injuries at work…I hope that someday I will be able to get off the streets and into permanent housing. But the fact that the city keeps taking and destroying my property makes that goal seem that much harder to achieve. I always live with the fear that the city will come and take what few possessions I have left.”
– Declaration before the court in October 2006

Charlene Clay and her husband left their apartment in 2006 because they could not afford the $850 in rent. They were camped on a hill off of G Street when City of Fresno workers destroyed their belongings – including Clay’s teeth, medications, sleeping bags, and personal papers – without warning. A second time, Clay was staying near San Benito and H Streets when police tipped her shopping cart, threw her possessions on the ground, and hauled her cart away.

“The City of Fresno has made it clear to me by destroying my property twice and by the way in which they did that, that because I am a homeless person, I will always be vulnerable to having my property taken and destroyed by City of Fresno workers and police.”

Joanna Garcia was born and raised in Fresno. She lost her job after she was mistakenly implicated in a robbery committed by her husband. She has worked at Holy Cross Women’s Shelter, earning food vouchers. City workers have seized and destroyed her property five times.
“…my belongings and my boyfriend’s belongings were on the grassy strip across the highway from E Street. They were neatly kept. My boyfriend and I had left for the day; I was working at Holy Cross. When we came back that evening, I said to my boyfriend, ‘I can’t see our home.’ All of our belongings were gone, including tents, blankets, personal papers, clothes, my pink bicycle, and irreplaceable pictures of my grandmother and my son.”

Douglas Deatherage, 43, worked part time at a trucking company. He watched as City of Fresno workers threw his belongings into a garbage truck. “My relatively small amount of personal possessions were not bothering anyone and I was ready and willing to move if the City of Fresno workers wanted to clean the area where they were. It was obvious that my property was not abandoned since I was there with it. I was given no opportunity to move my personal property in order to save it from this destruction that morning.”

For more information, contact: Contact: Malik Russell, ACLU-NC, 415.621.2493, x374 Anayma DeFrias, LCCR, 415.543.9444, x223

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A newly forming group from both Northern and Southern Humboldt invites you to meet and discuss future plans concerning ongoing raids on public and private lands that are displacing community members.

Also seeking Civil and Human Rights attorneys to join our efforts.

For more information:
Please contact Kathy Epling in Redway at (707) 923-4488
or Kathy Anderson in Eureka at (707) 444-3155.

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