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Sacramento barred from clearing homeless camps until at least Sept. 1 due to heat, judge rules

A federal judge has extended an order barring the city of Sacramento from clearing homeless encampments, due to extreme heat.

The city cannot clear camps until at least Sept. 1, Judge Troy L. Nunley said in a ruling Wednesday. Previously the order was set to expire Thursday.

Under the order, first issued Aug. 3 as the result of a Sacramento Homeless Union lawsuit, the city can still enforce its ordinance that bans camps from fully blocking sidewalks.

“To the extent possible, unhoused individuals should be given an opportunity to comply with the sidewalk ordinance at their given location,” the order stated.

District Attorney Thien Ho last week criticized the city for not citing homeless people who block the sidewalks, as its ordinance allows it to do. He has threatened criminal and civil action against city officials.

Mayor Steinberg has accused Ho of politicizing the issue of homelessness and pointed out that homeless people typically lack the ability to pay fines. Instead of issuing citations, when residents complain of blocked sidewalks, city employees routinely respond to the scene and tell them to move their items to make room for a four-foot walkway.

Nunley’s order also allows the city to clear camps that are within 500 feet of a school, and to pick up trash from camps, as long as it does not remove personal survival items.

It also requires the city to let the Sacramento Homeless Union to tour its Miller Park Safe Ground, a sanctioned encampment.

The union has raised concerns that the Safe Ground is too hot because the tents are located in the sun. The city has agreed to provide structures over tents in areas without shade, and alternative tents, such as those made of canvas, to provide better protection from the heat, the order stated.

Also Wednesday, Nunley ruled that the city must submit a court filing explaining why it should not be held in contempt of court and sanctioned for violating the order earlier this month.

The city on Aug. 4 and Aug. 7 cleared homeless people from outside City Hall, in violation of the order. The city told its police not to clear camps, but was “not effective,” in telling a contractor that handles City Hall, a spokesman said at the time.

The city has until Aug. 23 to submit the filing.

“You would think by now the city would stop making a bad situation worse by cruelly kicking unhoused persons out of more shaded areas into a more dangerous circumstance,” Anthony Prince, Sacramento Homeless Union attorney, said in an email.

Sacramento’s triple digit summers can be deadly, even for those who do aren’t located directly in the blazing sun. In September, unhoused man Michael Hooper, 49, died of heat stroke while living in his van near a Sacramento park, according to the coroner death report.