A group of lawyers and activists is suing the city of San Luis Obispo on behalf of the homeless community.
Organizations such as Hope’s Village of SLO are demanding more resources to address the homeless crisis rather than pushing thOse individuals away.
Among the plaintiffs is Renee Askew, who is unsheltered and has PTSD, anxiety and arthritis. She accuses the city of destroying her personal property during encampment sweeps at the Bob Jones Trail.
“I’m not trying to create a problem, I’m trying to survive,” Askew said. “We do need help. It is exhausting to get up in the morning and get dressed.”
Askew alleges that after multiple fines and sweeps, she was arrested in 2020.
“The city defied the U.S. Constitution by charging these humans with exorbitant fines for staying by the creek when they had no place to go. Fines a person with no income can ever pay,” said Frank Kopcinski, directing attorney at the California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) in San Luis Obispo.
It's a story all too familiar for Michael Gibson and his two dogs, Marley and Two Toes.
“During the last five years I’ve been here, I've gotten 15 tickets and all have gotten to warrant because I was sleeping in the park. They woke me up to give me a ticket,” Gibson recalled.
Gibson says the city took away his camp on Tuesday.
“My tent, sleeping bag, food, dog food,” Gibson added.
In the complaint, CRLA alleges on behalf of Hope’s Village of SLO that “the city has failed to ensure that there is available and adequate shelter for unhoused people before enforcing city ordinances that purport to regulate conduct, but which have been employed to criminalize being homeless; the City’s enforcement of these ordinances has resulted in criminalization of homelessness within its borders."
“The threat of a ticket, the threat of being thrown out is often used to displace people,” added Babak Naficy, attorney working on the lawsuit.
A 2019 survey by San Luis Obispo County found that at least 326 of the county’s 1,483 unsheltered homeless are based in the city of San Luis Obispo.
The lawsuit states the city’s only shelter, 40 Prado, has reduced its capacity to 70 because of COVID restrictions.
“I worked 38 years just to become homeless. I can’t afford the rent here,” said George, who is homeless in the City of San Luis Obispo.
In a statement, the City of San Luis Obispo said, “This lawsuit is discouraging on many levels, especially as the city is doing more than ever before to increase housing here and provide public services to unhoused and unsheltered community members. [...] There are many sides to every story, and we will defend our community in court. At this time, we ask the community to refrain from passing judgment until all facts are fully vetted through the legal process.”
“The city says they provide services. They don’t need just services, they need housing, they need a roof over their head, they need a bathroom, they need a sink,” said Becky Jorgeson, Director of Hope’s Village of SLO.
The group wants to see more affordable housing projects and more mental health resources for those who are unhoused.