A federal lawsuit filed by an Amarillo man on behalf of the homeless requests the city drop legal proceedings against the Christ Church Camp of New Beginnings, or Tent City, among other stipulations.
Rusty Donelson said the suit filed in federal district court in Amarillo Feb. 27 was originally designed to save the camp.
“We have four requests for the City of Amarillo,” Donelson said. “They include dropping the legal proceedings against Tent City; providing a low-barrier shelter; halting the process of forcing homeless individuals into the traditional shelters, and we asked the federal court to compel the city to identify those undisclosed investors in the downtown development projects.”
Last month city officials sent notices of code violations to Tent City operators and the owner of the property on which the settlement is located, detailing potential fines of up to $2,000 per day for the settlement.
Kevin Starbuck, Amarillo assistant city manager, said previously the city was made aware of Tent City, located near Northwest First Avenue and the Adams-Hughes connector, in November and since then has reached out to camp founder Amanda Brown-Hunter to address a number of health and safety concerns.
Donelson said the lawsuit serves as a role reversal, putting the city on notice.
“The City of Amarillo was absolutely intent on making Amanda Brown Hunter and the residents of the Tent City defendants,” he said. “Filing the federal lawsuit, the tables have been turned and the city, not Amanda Brown Hunter or Tent City, is now the defendant. This means the homeless will have their day in court and maybe multiple days. Even if we lose at the lower court level in the federal district court, that just provides us with an opportunity to appeal.”
In the wake of Donelson’s legal action, homeless advocate Kip Billups has established an encampment at City Hall, replete with several tents.
“I pitched a tent here Thursday, March 1 at 4:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the city council began enforcing the ordinance not allowing anyone to camp on private property for over 72 hours without incurring up to $2,000 a day fines,” he said. “You can’t camp on public or private property and that is criminalizing homelessness. So this is a protest for the city’s actions.”
Billups said he was arrested at City Hall March 1 for obstructing a passageway and was in custody for six hours before a group of social activists posted his bail. He said he recently received a fine for stealing electricity because his sleep apnea machine was plugged into an outlet outside of the City Hall building.
“The police confiscated it and after 10 minutes of discussion returned it,” Billups said. They decided if it was necessary for life, I should have it. I’ve been out here every night but the weekends, and other people have been out here with me too. Monday through Friday we’re out here with fliers notifying folks the city has criminalized homelessness.”
City officials said they have not seen the lawsuit and had no comment.