Trial Over Sacramento’s Camping Ordinance Wraps Up First Week

SACRAMENTO -- The trial on the legality of Sacramento's no camping ordinance wrapped up its first week Thursday with testimony from homeless campers who were jailed.

The city says those campers were cited because of nuisance complaints and for causing unhealthy conditions, not solely because they are homeless. Those who testified said they are being made into criminals because they have no place to stay.

Milton Harris is a plumber who was homeless for a time back in 2009 while battling drug addiction. Like other homeless people, he was kept on the run by police.

"I figured if I moved every two days I could stay ahead of them. It was like being chased," he said.

He says he took a stand by getting arrested after staying at a safe haven at an empty lot with permission of the owner. A jury was told in court that all these years later, the homeless are still be cited for illegal camping.

But the city and its attorney say those filing the lawsuit against the city were warned before any arrests were made and that citations or arrests are the result of complaints and health and safety concerns.

Still, Harris says his rehab and successful road out of homelessness was delayed by efforts to find shelter and staying out of jail.

"It should have been a year and six months maximum, but I spent more time running trying to hold on to what I had," Harris said.

The idea is to strike down the no-camping ordinance so that a safe camping site can be found for the homeless.

"The city the county have to figure out if we are going to continue to have destitute people or are we going to allow them to be someplace where they can help themselves get out of this situation?" Mark Merrin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

The city has a long list of witnesses once they get their chance to make their case before the jury. The case could last another two weeks.