Federal Court Upholds City’s Procedures to Address Homeless Encampments as Constitutional

Date Posted: November 28th, 2018 @ 3:54 PM
Last Updated: November 28th, 2018 @ 3:59 PM

Today United States District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. lifted a temporary restraining order and denied an injunction intended to stop the City of Oakland from closing a homeless encampment on public property in East Oakland on Constitutional grounds.

“Judge Gilliam’s order affirms the compassionate, careful approach we take toward addressing the homeless crisis,” said City Administrator Sabrina Landreth. “We will continue to offer our unsheltered neighbors alternatives to move them out of the cold, off the streets, and into safety and services.”

“The City’s policies and procedures were put under close examination by the Federal Court and it determined that the steps the City is taking are constitutional. We look forward to continuing to implement those policies in a manner that balances the needs of the unsheltered with our entire Oakland community,” she said.

The City has available shelter beds for the 13 individuals currently on the property, including families, and will offer available beds to them after the notice of closure is posted (timeline has not yet been determined) and during the closure. In addition, to offering shelter beds and resources to the unsheltered, the City will continue to follow its established policies and procedures when addressing encampments. These include:

  • Providing 72-hour advance notice of closure at multiple visible locations
  • Storing any property left at the site after closure other than property deemed unsafe or hazardous for 90 days
  • Posting information about retrieval of belongings

The Court found that “The decisions made by the City in its efforts to address the homelessness crisis are the type that lie at the very core of a government’s policymaking discretion, and there is no easy solution to this extraordinarily complex challenge…The Court’s narrow inquiry is whether the Constitution forbids the City from making difficult decisions it judges to be in the best interests of all its residents by implementing a policy it believes appropriately balances the important individual and community rights implicated by encampments on public land in Oakland.”

The Court’s order points out that the Ninth Circuit holding in Martin v. City of Boise “does not cover individuals who do have access to temporary shelter…but who choose not to use it….Martin does not establish a constitutional right to occupy public property indefinitely at Plaintiff’s option.” It points out that “plaintiffs are not faced with punishment…nor are [they] unable to obtain shelter outside of [the East Oakland encampment].”

In his order, Judge Gilliam stated, “The parties here agree on at least one thing: the City of Oakland is experiencing what can only be described as a homelessness crisis. The City’s submissions make clear that it has devoted and continues to devote substantial public resources to addressing this crisis.”

Background re: the City’s Efforts to Address the Homeless Crisis

Last month, the Oakland City Council approved an $8.6 million emergency funding package for homeless services and unveiled “The Holland,” a new rapid re-housing facility to provide up to 180 formerly unsheltered residents with shelter, services, care, and support on their path to self-sufficiency. The Holland is modeled on the City’s successful Henry Robinson Center, which serves 300 recently homeless people per year with an 88% success rate of moving people into permanent housing.

The $8.6 million emergency funding will allow the City to:

  • Open three new Community Cabin (Tuff Shed) sites, providing emergency shelter and services for up to 320 people per year.
  • Open four managed RV sites that will provide up to 150 RVs (about 300 people) with secure parking, sanitary facilities, and garbage services.
  • Increase the number of year-round shelter beds from 350 to 450, and operate the shelter at St. Vincent de Paul on a year-round basis

Once all the sites are up and running, the City of Oakland will have provided beds, shelter, and social services to an estimated 1,000 unsheltered residents within one year—roughly half of the population living outdoors in Oakland according to Alameda County’s 2017 Point-in-Time Survey.

Media Contact

Karen Boyd

Communications Director

City Administrator’s Office

(510) 449-4401