City of Novato battles homeless lawsuit

On Jul. 15, a federal lawsuit was filed against the City of Novato by the Marin County Homeless Union (MCHU), and several residents of the encampment at Lee Gerner park besides the public library. Individual residents of the encampment include Lea Deangelo, and Zach Boulware, and San Marin graduate Jason Sarris. The plaintiff (MCHU) claims that being denied the right to sleep on public land is unconstitutional. In response to the suit, the Defendant (City of Novato) has offered the residents at Lee Gerner park 15 shelter beds at Homeward Bound of Marin as well as wraparound support. Included in the support is assistance in jobs, health care, and potential for permanent housing. 

On Jul. 27, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District Court issued a temporary restraining order against the city of Novato, clarifying that the city is prohibited from removing those who refused the shelter beds and choose to remain at Lee Gerner park. The MCHU VS City of Novato suit has been pending and continuous for several years. 

Will Houston, Reporter for the Marin Independent Journal (Marin IJ) who has written about the homeless encampment felt as though the relocation was due to the pandemic. 

“The CDC set guidelines prohibiting homeless encampments from being forced to relocate so they don’t spread Covid,” Houston said. 

Lee Gerner has been the site of a permanent homeless encampment for over 450 days, containing approximately 35 individuals at a time. 

“We have the right to be here according to the ruling set by the 2018 Martin Boise case,” Sarris said. 

The Martin V Boise case prohibits agencies from restricting people sleeping on public property given that there is insufficient shelter space available. The city said they are within the limitations of the Martin V Boise ruling, they provided portable bathrooms to the park and allowed for reasonable limitations on camping. 

With the large influx of homeless people in Marin, the city’s resources such as Homeward Bound of Marin is tied up. The response to the Lee Gerner park residents is to offer 15 shelter beds and support. 

“You can’t just protect 15 people and criminalize the rest of the homeless in Novato,” Sarris said. Without a final agreement from both parties, the case is still in process and a settlement date is yet to be determined. “Novato needs to get taught a lesson, a lesson about social equality, and criminalizing the homeless,” Sarris said.

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