Sherman R. Frederick
Marinscope News Analysis
Due to the vagueness of the federal court ruling called Martin v. Boise, cities in Marin are searching for how they can best respond to the homeless crisis. The City of Sausalito has struck upon one approach. Today, Marinscope Community Newspapers takes you inside the Marinship Park enclosure for the homeless.
It’s relatively safe, organized and designed to bring help from city and county agencies efficiently. And, most importantly, it is sanctioned by the federal courts.
But homeless advocates ridicule the facility, calling it a “pen” and a World War II style internment camp that gets the homeless “out of sight, out of mind.”
It began last January when one man began camping beachside at Dunphy Park. He was joined by others and it quickly grew into a jamboree of homeless campers. Some were legitimately down and out in the picturesque bayside town of Sausalito. Some were clearly along for the party.
The group brought in its own portable toilets and set up a mess tent to receive donations and cook for the camp. Rich people from Tiburon brought bagels and cream cheese for Sunday brunch. Homeless advocates argued that this beach camping was allowed because according to Martin v. Boise if Sausalito had nowhere for them to go, they could legally sleep in the park.
To add to the debate, Sausalito had just renovated Dunphy Park and citizens began to complain that the growing homeless camp prevented them from fully enjoying their own renovated park. There were police reports of dogs from the camp running off leash, late night parties, nudity and assaults.
Eventually, the Sausalito City Council elected to establish one place — and one place only — for the homeless to be in Sausalito and that would be Marinship Park. The city reasoned that this park had better facilities. At first the city tried to make it a night-time camping only facility. The federal court found fault with that approach. The city then made it a 24-7 facility, and it was given the green light by the court.
So, today, if you are homeless in Sausalito and you need a place to sleep, the only place you can legally do it is at Marinship Park. If you try to camp elsewhere, you will be told to move to Marinship Park or be fined.
The city has fenced off the Marinship facility and controls entry. Some homeless have tried to camp at Marinship Park, but outside the enclosure, but have been told to move inside or be fined.
Meanwhile, Novato has adopted a blanket no day-time camping rule in that city. It’s now in federal court awaiting a judge’s review. One of the issues brought forward by Novato is that the homeless have been offered housing, but few, if any, have taken it. Documents in court indicated that the homeless do not want government housing and prefer the “free” lifestyle of camping in city parks.
The judge in the case has ordered the homeless advocates to testify in court specifically why they refuse government housing help. Some see the Novato case turning on that response.
San Rafael on the other hand has adopted a hybrid approach. City authorities want to prevent the homeless from camping in certain parks, but allow it in others. Other smaller cities in Marin deal with the issue on a case-by-case basis, awaiting some kind of resolution. A review of cop logs in all of Marin reveal that every city deals with homeless issues multiple times a day.
Officials in Novato privately say they think they have the right approach to thread the needle in the Marin v. Boise case. But fleshing out the ruling is in its early stages.
In the meanwhile, Marin taxpayers would like to use their city parks without the possibility of court-sanctioned homeless encampments taking over. Experts will tell you one thing or another is certain. Smart experts will tell you it’s a jump ball.
(You can reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.)