A homeless man files suit over his accommodations

The Yiddish word "chutzpah" describes a man who murders both his parents and then throws himself on the court's mercy because he's an orphan.  James Hellard, a homeless man, isn't a murderer, but he has chutzpah.

Until recently, Hellard lived on whatever streets he wished, irrespective of the effect his urban camping had on San Rafael, a city in Marin County, California.  Now, though, because the city worked with Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation) to make a more permanent encampment, complete with amenities, under a highway overpass, he's suing both San Rafael and Caltrans for injuries suffered from noise and pollution.

When I was last in San Rafael, a few years ago, before California's homeless crisis went completely out of control, the city's business district was peppered with people living on the streets.  An area that had once been a pleasant shopping district for pedestrian traffic was now a rather scary walk because of the proximity of people who appeared to be filthy, lice-ridden, mentally ill, and under the influence of alcohol or various illegal substances.  It wasn't San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York, but it was unpleasant.

Image: Unauthorized homeless camp under a freeway in San Rafael (edited).  YouTube screen grab.

I understand that the situation worsened exponentially once COVID struck.  So, in July, San Rafael, working with Caltrans, finally acted:

The city-sanctioned camp was established in July on Caltrans property at the freeway viaduct. The area was set up to provide security, restrooms, handwashing stations, garbage disposal, regular service referrals and other amenities, according to the city. At that time, homeless campers in other areas were relocated to the site, which he city calls a "service support area."

In a July interview with the Independent Journal about the city camp, Murphy said, "Nobody was forced, this was all done by choice. Most people were very eager to get into the site."

At the same time, the city made it illegal to camp in a popular park and in some garages, citing the risk of fires in the drought-stricken region.  In addition, the city recently announced that it was planning to spend ever more money supporting the homeless.  Last June, it allocated $260,000 to homeless services.  This past March, the state granted San Rafael $522,000 to fund the homeless camp.  Marin County will chip in another $166,000.  And all that is on top of the $346,852 that the city has already spent for staff and amenities:

The campers are provided with case managers, a catered meal weekly, spiritual advisers, a mobile medical clinic, COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, animal care for those with pets, job opportunities through the Downtown Streets Team, library services and visits with Spahr Center staff, who offer LGBTQ+ support services.

But for Hellard, a man who, according to San Rafael, voluntarily relocated to this homeless camp with concierge service, and for Robbie Powelson, a "homeless activist," life in the "internment camp" merits litigation:

The class-action lawsuit cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states the World Health Organization recommends that noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 decibels over a 24-hour period and 85 decibels over a one-hour period to avoid hearing impairment. The CDC also says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends workers should use hearing protection when exposed to 90 decibels or higher during an eight-hour work day.

The suit cites a CDC report that links living in proximity to a major road or highway with health effects such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory symptoms and other diseases.

The plaintiff, James Hellard, 49, alleges that the city has been "forcing" him to live under the overpass for the past two years because "living anywhere else means my survival gear will be confiscated."

Jesus said, "For ye have the poor always with you," and that, of course, is true.  However, for many decades, our society managed to prevent the poor from morphing into an army of homeless, mentally ill, substance-abusing people turning cities into filthy, dangerous places for the homeless and housed residents alike.

Faced with this problem, rather than disincentivizing homelessness and returning to an earlier era of mental health institutes for people with intractable mental illness and substance abuse problems, Democrat-run cities have done their best to make street living more palatable...and it's still not enough.  We've created a generation of homeless people who feel that their rights transcend those of the people who make a city livable: workers and regular residents, including the families that have a true stake in a city's future.

I don't blame Hellard for filing suit.  San Rafael might as well have put a sign on its forehead saying, "Please, beat me up."  And that's exactly what he and his fellow class members are going to do.

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