Sacramento sued by disabled residents over homeless camps, tents blocking sidewalks

The city of Sacramento and the county are being sued by two disabled residents who say homeless camps that have taken over wide swaths of Sacramento sidewalks make it impossible for them to navigate the area and imperil their safety.

The lawsuit, filed late Tuesday in federal court, seeks class-action status and a court order requiring city and county officials to clear Sacramento sidewalks of camps, tents and debris that have proliferated throughout the area in recent years.

“In the past several years, the unsheltered population of Sacramento has increased substantially,” says the suit filed by Sacramento attorney Louis Demas. “Since the onset of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic and the corresponding economic downturn, the number of such persons camping on the streets of the Defendant City,and Defendant County, has exponentially exploded.”

The result, the lawsuit says, is sidewalks “blocked by tent encampments and attendant debris (often including toxic and used hypodermic needles), and unleashed animals rendering the sidewalks inaccessible, dangerous, and unsanitary for people with mobility disabilities.”

The suit was filed on behalf of Susan Hood, a 64-year-old legally blind Arden Arcade resident, and Chester McNabb, a 66-year-old downtown Sacramento resident who has trouble walking and uses an electric scooter to get around.

But the action has the potential to affect up to 200,000 other disabled residents of Sacramento, with the suit noting that 12.4% of the county’s residents and 11.8% of the city’s residents are considered disabled. The suit also could affect anyone else who has had to maneuver around tents and campsites outside City Hall or on sidewalks throughout the region.

A county spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday on pending litigation, and a city spokesman declined to comment because the city had not yet been served with the complaint.

The Sacramento City Council approved a measure in August allowing for homeless camps to be moved if they block building entrances or prevent a 4-foot wide path on sidewalks. On smaller sidewalks, camps would be banned entirely.

But the lawsuit contends the city and county both have “have taken only limited action” to keep sidewalks clear.

The suit also includes a number of photographs of sidewalks blocked by camps, as well as a video of McNabb taken in January as he was trying to make his way to a medical clinic on Y Street to get his broken glasses repaired.

“He traveled on his electric scooter to the T Street underpass at 29th to 30th Streets,” the suit says. “He was on the northern side of the street. Because of tent encampment obstructions, it took over six minutes for Mr. McNabb to travel one block.”

The suit says McNabb has found other sidewalks downtown completely blocked, forcing him to turn around and find new routes to his destinations.

“Mr. McNabb’s travels on sidewalks are impeded from broken glass, vomit, feces, and all kinds of other debris,” the suit says. “His travel length and time is extended on the sidewalks so as to avoid tent encampment areas he regards as dangerous.”

Hood, who uses a guide dog named Geode and a white cane while running errands and using Regional Transit, has found herself sometimes having to step into busy streets with her dog to get around camps that completely block sidewalks, the suit says.

“During the month of September, Ms. Hood made two trips to downtown Sacramento,” the suit says. “One trip was for business near Cesar Chavez Plaza and the other trip was for a performance at the Convention Center.

“On one of these trips, she got completely disoriented because she had to keep changing her route due to so many encampments in the area that were completely blocking the sidewalk.”

The suit cites violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other measures enacted to protect the disabled, and it asks for a court order requiring the city and county to clear sidewalks and require a 10-foot buffer zone from sidewalks “to shield class members from threats to their personal safety which they regularly experience when navigating close to tent encampments.”