Homeless Man Sues for Excessive Noise

A homeless man filed a class action lawsuit last week against the city of San Rafael, California, in federal court claiming that the accommodations provided for free have caused him injury.

James Hellard, 49, filed the case on March 29 against the City of San Rafael and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Hellard lived until recently wherever he chose to camp on public property in the city. Now that the city has joined with Caltrans to provide a permanent campsite for the homeless with generous amenities, Hellard has found available defendants to sue for alleged injuries caused by noise and pollution.

In response to its ongoing homeless problem, the city established a camp last summer on property owned by Caltrans near a freeway overpass. The camp includes security, restrooms, garbage disposal, and other services. The city describes the campsite as a “service support area.”

San Rafael Police Department Mental Health Outreach Liaison Officer Lynn Murphy said that no homeless people were forced to move to the new camp. She said that everyone who moved in did so “by choice” and added, “Most people were very eager to get into the site.”

The camp was funded by $260,000 in city funds, a $166,000 grant from Marin County, and a $522,000 grant from the state. The city allocated almost $347,000 in additional funds for staff and amenities at the site.

Campers are provided with weekly catered meals, access to case managers, spiritual advisors, a mobile medical clinic, animal care for pets, library services, and LGBTQ+ support services.

The lawsuit cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that recommend noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 decibels over any 24-hour period or 85 decibels over any one-hour period. It also references Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance that workers should use hearing protection when exposed to more than 90 decibels. It also references a CDC report describing health risks from living near major highways including asthma, COPD, and other diseases.

Hellard alleges that he has been “forced” to live in the camp because living elsewhere will lead to his “survival gear” being “confiscated.” He told reporters that the lives of the campers “are at risk.”

Area homeless activist Robbie Powelson has been assisting Hellard and other residents at the camp. He describes the area as an “internment camp” and said government officials are guilty of negligence and “false imprisonment.”

California continues to lead the way in establishing programs that attempt to deal with homelessness by subsidizing it. Now it is apparent that it is also subsidizing lawsuits against the taxpayers who foot the bill.