Homeless Fight for Toehold in Eureka, Calif.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — People at a long-established homeless camp in Eureka, Calif. are fighting eviction, saying the city has encouraged them to live there for years, and now they have nowhere to go.
     Eleven homeless people in Eureka — a city of about 27,000 perched on the rugged coast of Humboldt County — sued the city Monday, claiming it’s is violating their constitutional rights by forcing them to leave a well-established homeless camp, where some of them have lived for years.
     The city will evict nearly 150 residents of a camp in the Palco Marsh, unless the court issues a temporary restraining order, lead plaintiff Stacy Cobine says.
     Three plaintiffs say they have lived at the park for more than two years. A fourth says he’s lived there on and off for 15 years.
     They say the city has declined to enforce its anti-camping ordinance for more than a decade. In fact, city police have been directing people to the Palco Marsh camp since it was set up in 2002, tacitly and overtly encouraging them to remain there and accumulate belongings, including pets, according to the 82-page complaint.
     “The city’s decision to begin enforcing the municipal anti-camping ordinance marks a highly prejudicial and untimely shift from the city’s prior policy of at least allowing — and in some instances, encouraging — the presence of the Palco Marsh encampment,” the complaint states.
     Cobine, who has lived in the camp for six months, says: “The effects of driving plaintiffs and the other residents of the Palco Marsh encampment from their homes and shelters without providing any viable housing or camping alternative will be devastating.”
     Under pressure from residents and elected officials, the city has decided to evict nearly 150 people and seize their possessions and pets, which may be adopted out or euthanized, according to the complaint.
     “A lot of these people are long-term residents of the encampment,” plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Martin told Courthouse News. “They’ve been there for a decade or longer. If they are going to evict them, the very least they can do is offer them relocation assistance.”
     The problem is exacerbated by a lack of viable alternatives, as the city lacks emergency shelters, and a shelter that is provided comes with religious indoctrination, according to the complaint. Many of the residents of Palco Marsh will be forced to flee to surrounding cities, all of which also boast sizeable homeless populations and a dearth of temporary shelters.
     Cobine is a former nurse, who suffered a shoulder injury and has had difficulty holding a job. She suffers from mental disabilities and has been on Social Security disability since 2008, according to the complaint.
     She lives at the camp with her 5-year-old dog Lazarus. She says in the complaint that officers told her that so long as there was no violence and residents kept to themselves, the police would not interfere,.
     The homeless make up about 2.2 percent of the population of Eureka, about twice the rate of average cities in California. From 20 to 35 percent of the homeless are veterans, according to the complaint.
     The case resembles Acosta v. Salinas, in which homeless people unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order to stop sweeps of the Chinatown area. In that case, U.S. Magistrate Judge ruled on April 14 that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that they faced harms sufficient to warrant a temporary restraining order.
     Cobine et al. are to appear before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White at 2 p.m. Friday. They seek a restraining order to stop their eviction.
     The Eureka city attorney did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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