SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho sued the city of Sacramento on Tuesday over the homelessness issue, accusing the city of failing to enforce its own laws.
The suit, in Sacramento County Superior Court, came in the wake of a letter he sent Mayor Darrell Steinberg in August about the homelessness crisis. Citing reports of hypodermic needles on a soccer field and kids walking through human waste to school, Ho demanded action from the city in 30 days.
That deadline passed earlier this month.
“You might be asking yourself, how did we get here?” Ho said during a Tuesday press conference. He added: “The community is at a breaking point.”
Flanked by community members, Ho said the city must be held accountable to the same laws applied to its people. Residents face harassment from homeless encampments. People have been threatened, watched the unhoused deal and use drugs and witnessed sex acts. At 3 a.m. Tuesday, someone set some bushes outside the courthouse on fire.
“How did we get here?” Ho asked. “Enough is enough.”
Sacramento has seen an erosion of everyday life, Ho said, claiming people no longer feel safe. The unhoused population has grown over 250% over the past seven years Steinberg has been mayor. Sacramento now has more homeless people than San Francisco.
“We need to get people off the streets,” Ho said. “Living on the streets is not compassionate for the housed or the unhoused.”
Stephen Walton, one of the people flanking Ho during the press conference, said his family has lived in the Del Paso Heights and Old North Sacramento area for almost 80 years. People in his community have compassion for the unhoused. However, that compassion must be balanced with public safety.
“We’ve watched open drug dealing, drug usage, human trafficking and prostitution,” Walton said.
When someone contacts 311, a nonemergency phone number for the city, they’re told nothing can be done, Walton said.
Emily Webb, who lives on the southern edge of the city core, said she’s asked multiple times for the city to remove a homeless encampment near her house. At one point, someone’s belongings blocked her driveway for weeks. People have used drugs in her front yard.
Over three dozen calls to the city resulted in canned responses and no action, Webb said.
“We’ve been threatened and yelled at,” she added.
Attorney Ognian Gavrilov also stood with Ho during Tuesday’s announcement and said he filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of small business owners and residents.
“It’s getting worse by the day and no solutions are being presented to any of us,” Gavrilov said.
Gavrilov's clients claim a decree from Steinberg stops police and other authorities from clearing dangerous encampments that block sidewalks and pollute neighborhoods.
The two lawsuits, which have similar goals, could end up before the same judge, Ho said. It's also possible they would be consolidated at some point.
He also expects movement in his case much sooner than August 2024, the first hearing date listed in court records. That hearing date is a placeholder. Gathering evidence and depositions can begin around the end of the month.
Ultimately, Ho said his goal is for city officials to enforce existing law.
“This is a rare opportunity for us to effectuate meaningful, efficient means of getting the critically, chronically unhoused off the street," he said.
The district attorney outlined short-, mid- and long-term measures he wants implemented. To achieve a long-term goal of 10,000 more mental health beds and an expanded conservatorship law, and a mid-term goal of a citation-based method of getting unhoused people into treatment, the city must have compliance and enforcement of existing law.