Police Search for Man Filmed Vandalizing Novato Homeless Encampment

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A trail camera set up by a resident of a Novato tent encampment captured a man slicing tents and breaking their poles on Jan. 3, 2021. (YouTube)

Novato police on Monday said they are looking for a man who was caught on video vandalizing tents in a homeless encampment on Jan. 3. The unidentified man appears to slice through the fabric of two tents with a knife, before bending and breaking the tents' poles.

In separate videos posted to Facebook, Robbie Powelson said he reported the crime after capturing with a trail camera what he describes as a vigilante attack on his property, and said that it wasn't the first time the encampment had been targeted.

Powelson is part of a small group who recently set up camp at Hamilton Field, a former military base. Residents of the encampment have refused to vacate the property, despite an order issued by the city. Powelson said they're advocating for affordable housing on the site.

"We're just still going to be fighting for this community land trust and fighting for some change in Novato," Powelson said.

In a statement, City Manager Adam McGill called the occupation of 201 Sunset Dr. in the Hamilton neighborhood a two-man effort that shifts the city's attention away from an established, sanctioned encampment.

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"This stunt only serves as a distraction that appears to be for their own self-interest," McGill said. "One of them should return to his house and the other should return to Lee Gerner Park where there is an established encampment that has routine wrap-around support services for all those present rather than inefficiently divide our efforts at a new encampment across town."

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The city hopes to sell the 9-acre group of Hamilton properties, which it estimates is worth $6.9 million.

Marin County is home to more than 1,000 unhoused people, according to last year's count. About a third of those people reside in Novato. In November, county leaders rejected a controversial plan to buy a 70-room hotel in the city to help bring people in off the streets in conjunction with the state's Homekey program.

Powelson said a camp-out demonstration at Novato City Hall is planned for Jan. 11 to protest the tent vandalization.