A judge in federal court in San Jose shot down a request Tuesday that would have protected nearly 200 individuals from being swept out of their homeless encampment by the city of Santa Cruz.
The Gateway Encampment, also called Ross Camp, is located behind a Ross store and the Gateway Plaza shopping center at 470 River St. It became the subject of city scrutiny this year after it grew in size and complaints began about theft, property damage, mounting garbage, discarded needles and excrement.
The city considered relocating several residents to the city-managed 1220 River St. encampment and a separate parking lot, but the move was abandoned after pushback from city residents. Ross Camp residents filed a lawsuit against the city on April 9, alleging a lack of safe alternative housing and inhumane treatment under the Eighth Amendment, which bars "cruel and unusual punishments."
The court denied the plaintiffs' request for a continued temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Tuesday, saying the homeless residents failed to establish that the closure of the camp would cause them "irreparable harm." The request had previously been granted last week, but was dissolved.
"The closure of the Encampment will undoubtedly cause the residents disruption and severe inconvenience as they will need to pack up their belongings and potentially end friendships they have developed throughout their time at the Encampment," Judge Edward Davila wrote. "However, this harm does not rise to the level of irreparable harm that this element requires."
Though female homeless individuals shared stories of being vulnerable to sexual assault and predatory behavior while camping on their own, Davila said the city has made sufficient efforts to provide motel vouchers and additional resources to former Ross Camp residents.
He also cited four deaths at the encampment and city Fire Chief Jason Hajduk's testimony that the encampment was a "recipe for a mass casualty event."
The city additionally filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying a Ross Camp liaison, Alicia Kuhl, is not licensed to practice law. Homeless advocate Kuhl said she is not the group's official attorney and that the city's claim is only intended "to throw the case off." Kuhl said the plaintiffs are representing themselves but the group has advisement from a licensed attorney.
She said the city posted closure notices at the camp Tuesday but did not include any mention of alternative shelter. The bulk of the Ross Camp plans to relocate to a private new location by Friday.
"That's been our thing all along, that it's not okay to displace this camp with no alternative available shelter," she said. "That's exactly what they're doing right now."
Santa Cruz has been struggling to find housing for its homeless population and declared a shelter crisis in January 2018. There are currently over 2,200 homeless individuals in Santa Cruz, according to its most recent homeless count.