Homeless advocates allege human rights abuses in Sonoma County
Homeless individuals in Sonoma County are systemically having their rights violated by police singling them out for infractions and by authorities and outreach workers neglecting those with disabilities, an advocacy group charged in a new report.
Kathleen Finigan, an advocate with Homeless Action, detailed the group’s findings last month in a presentation to the Sonoma County Commission for Human Rights.
The 14-page report said that current treatment by county and Santa Rosa officials, police, and outreach workers interacting with homeless people in Sonoma County violates the 4th and 8th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act and seven articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document adopted by the United Nations that outlines individual human rights.
Homeless people are being relocated continuously and cited or arrested when they refuse to move, a potential example of “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the 8th Amendment, the report contends. They also claim that those with disabilities are not receiving proper accommodations, as spelled out under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We are compelled to demand immediate relief for people who have become refugees in their own country,” Finigan said at the June 26 meeting.
Lt. Mike Lazzarini of the Santa Rosa Police Department did not respond directly to any allegations but said the department takes human rights seriously.
“In all circumstances, the Police Department exercises compassion and care related to our citizens’ constitutional rights,” Lazzarini said.
Homeless Action unsuccessfully sought a restraining order against the city of Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Community Development Commission and Sonoma County in March to prevent a Roseland Village encampment from being cleared out before all residents received appropriate accommodations. The motion was denied by Judge Vince Chhabria in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
In his decision, Chhabria said that the government had made “adequate shelter options available to encampment residents.” But Homeless Action contends that proper shelter options were not made available for all encampment residents, and the group continues to press its legal case in federal court against the CDC, county and city of Santa Rosa. The next conference in the proceedings is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2019.
Housing officials and homeless care providers said they are struggling to offer support to the county’s homeless population, which totals nearly 3,000, about 2,000 of which remain unsheltered. Many of those people have been on the move since the city began sweeping several longstanding encampments last year.
The goal of that enforcement effort is to address the needs of homeless residents and “mitigate impacts to surrounding communities,” according to a city fact sheet.
Homeless Action representatives are urging the county’s Human Rights Commission to take up their claims in a meeting next Tuesday. A resolution they authored, set for consideration on the commission’s agenda, claims local governments have failed to establish “pragmatic solutions for homelessness.”
“We’re hoping that the county and in particular the Board of Supervisors will take it seriously that there are human rights violations in allowing so many people to live outside, and come up with practical solutions,” said Adrienne Lauby, co-founder of Homeless Action.
The resolution asks the commission to formally request that the Board of Supervisors designate a safe camping area in Sonoma County with access to restrooms and case management services. Unsanctioned camping is illegal both in the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.