District Attorney Thien Ho Focuses on HomelessnessOct 27, 2023 02:14PM ● By Patrick Editor
District Attorney Thien Ho stands in front of five Oakridge High School students who attended the October Rancho Cordova Luncheon. The students (all 17 years old) from left are: Josh Mulert, Nathan Enney, Wil Gunter, Brock Fowler, and Bryson Elliott. “The project was to go to a civic event,” said Fowler. “We found this one and thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about government and how some things work.” Photo by Margaret Snider
RANCHO CORDOVA, CA (MPG) - Newly elected Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho started his talk at the Rancho Cordova luncheon with a quotation from Winston Churchill. “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”
Ho has been a prosecutor for 22 years. “I became a prosecutor because I wanted to give back to the community,” Ho said.
Ho related the moving story of his family’s escape from communist persecution in Vietnam. Another 40 refugees accompanied them on a boat, which started out being nearly discovered by a military guard, which would have meant death. Afloat on the open sea for weeks, they ran out of gas, food, and water before being rescued by a merchant ship. A refugee camp became their home for six months.
“We were sponsored in this country by a local church over in Stockton . . .” Ho said. “Twenty years later, I was in law school . . . This country gave my family everything we could ever ask for.”
In talking about the homeless situation in Sacramento County, Ho focused on those unhoused for more than a year. “When we’re talking about the quantity of homeless, 8 out of 10 suffer from mental health and drug issues,” Ho said. Ho has asked the City to institute a daytime camping ban across the City, and to set up locations where people who are homeless can store their property during the day with centers where they can seek treatment.
Though he would not discuss
his lawsuit against the City of Sacramento, he did give a hypothetical
situation which helps to understand his point of view. Say a person owns a
piece of private property in the City of Sacramento and allows human
trafficking, drug use, and other crimes to occur there.
The City of Sacramento sends him a letter, saying, “You can’t let the garbage, the urine, the feces, the cockroaches, the open-air fires, be on your property,” Ho said. “You have to clean it up.” The City gives the person time to do it. “If he doesn’t, he gets another warning that he will be criminally prosecuted or civilly sued if he doesn’t act.
The City will send a questionnaire to people who live and work around that property, asking if there are consequences that affect the community. If so, it’s a public nuisance, which is a crime.
If the person still doesn’t act, the City will proceed to prosecute or sue him to get him to clean up his property. “That is the premise, the City does that to you and me,” Ho said. Ho flipped it by suing the City. “The City has an ordinance that camping is allowed around City Hall at night, but not in the daytime. “They instituted that . . . But they wouldn’t extend that same protection to the rest of the City.”
The D.A.’s office sent the community a survey regarding 16 encampments throughout the City. Within a matter of days, they received over 1,600 responses, with many being “disturbing and appalling.”
Ho wants to institute in Sacramento specific things to help alleviate the homeless crisis. For one, he would like to emulate the system the City of San Diego has for accounting for shelter beds.
In San Diego, every morning at a certain time, if you run a shelter, you have to follow a certain protocol. If you are getting money from either the City or the County in San Diego, you have to report on a computer system how many shelter beds are available at that given time.
“Why can’t we take that same principle and tie it to our nonprofits that are running these shelters?” Ho said. “Every morning at 7 a.m. they put that information in. That information is then available to the navigators, to the health care providers, to the advocates and to law enforcement.”
Another program is assembly member Kevin McCarty’s Prop 1360, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. It is a pilot program in Yolo and Sacramento Counties. On certain nonviolent offenses, if the defense can show that the individual committed a nonviolent crime because of a drug addiction issue, “we put them in a soft lockdown facility, instead of going to jail,” Ho said. If they complete that program successfully the nonviolent charge is dismissed and expunged from the record.
The idea is to get them back on their feet, address the underlying issue of drugs . . . rather than have the revolving door again and again without any effect.” The County needs a location for the facility, and funding.
“So there are some ideas that we’re working on,” Ho said.