Please read and post all of the below.
January 5, 2013
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, in the past few days, brought a dumpster to a place where people had tents and other belongings. The Sheriff’s Department, I believe using the labor of people in jail or doing SWAP, took every homeless person’s belongings and DISPOSED OF THEM.
But the reality for homeless people, who are not making their “living” on the deaths, victimization, and abuse of others, is that the County of Humboldt and City of Eureka are leaving them with NOTHING. Imagine staying outside tonight for even just 5 hours with nothing- no blankets- nothing. Then throw out all of your photos, food, letters, clothes, memorabilia… It’s cruelty what is happening. One woman who’s every belonging was stolen and thrown out by the Sheriff’s (and she has pneumonia) told me tonight that she can imagine how someone in a natural disaster feels, losing everything. And that it feels kind of like she was raped.
Crimes against humanity. Indecent. Unacceptable. We cannot let this continue.
Can Homeless People Own Anything?
by Piper Hoffman July 3, 2013If you don’t have a home, the city of Los Angeles feels you have no right to have anything else either. Thankfully, federal judges disagree.
Eight homeless people left their property temporarily to use restrooms, fill water jugs or appear in court, the Los Angeles Times reports. They returned to their stuff — but there was no stuff. Among the things the city confiscated and destroyed were IDs, birth certificates, family memorabilia, medications, cellphones and toiletries. The people sued.
L.A. took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. It argued that it had to remove the items from sidewalks because it was cited by the county Department of Public Health for health code violations. (Los Angeles pretty much asked for the citations when it requested a county inspection.)
To be fair, the violations were gross: an “accumulation of human waste, needles, condoms and a rat infestation.” The city said waste and rotting food were found around and under homeless people’s things, and without removing them, it couldn’t clean the sidewalks thoroughly.
A federal district court issued an injunction against the city — a court order against taking people’s stuff. L.A. appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Turns out that was a bad move.
The Court of Appeals decided that “the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protect homeless persons from government seizure and summary destruction of their unabandoned, but momentarily unattended, personal property.”
The Fourth Amendment guarantees people’s right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” In other words, the government can’t take your stuff “unreasonably.”
The Fourteenth Amendment, aka the equal protection clause, forbids public officials from treating certain people — like those without housing — differently from others. Stealing personal property is not something cities typically do to people who keep their things in their homes, but they treat homeless people differently, and that is a no-no.
The Supreme Court refused Los Angeles’s request to consider the case, leaving it bound by the lower courts’ rulings. The upshot: L.A. can’t take property from Skid Row without good reason to believe one of the following:
1. the property is abandoned;
2. it urgently threatens public health or safety;
3. it is evidence of a crime; or
4. it is contraband.
If the city passes that test and seizes possessions, it can’t destroy them unless they qualify for #2. If the items fall into #1, 3 or 4, the city has to keep them secure for at least 90 days to give the owner time to get them back.
Los Angeles isn’t the only place making off with homeless people’s things. The L.A. Times reports that there are currently 30 lawsuits against Fresno, CA for “cleaning up” homeless encampments. Hawaii is in trouble too.
Without a home to leave their property in, homeless people don’t have a lot of choices other than keeping it on the sidewalk. But they are just as entitled to protection from government search and seizure as everyone else. It would be nice if the Supreme Court would make that clear for the whole country, and even better if local governments would figure it out on their own.
A Press Release announcing the lawsuits by homeless people against the City of Fresno and Caltrans is below.
Attorneys for homeless residents of Fresno announced the filing of nine new lawsuits yesterday, brought on behalf of 12 individual homeless residents of Fresno arising out of the demolition and destruction of their dwellings and personal property beginning on October 27, 2011 and continuing through the winter months. The suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, name as defendants the City of Fresno, Caltrans and a number of individual defendants who authorized or participated in the demolition of the homeless encampments. The suits claim that the City and Caltrans destroyed shelters, warm clothing, tents, and irreplaceable personal items in violation of both federal and state law as well as the City’s own ordinance, without any regard to the impact these destructions would have on the homeless. As the suit points out, the City of Fresno choose to begin its demolitions, including the destruction of shelters and clothing that were essential for protection against the rain and freezing weather, just as winter began.
In 2008, the City of Fresno and Caltrans settled a class action, known as the Kincaid class action, brought against them for their treatment of homeless residents for a total of $2.35 million. These lawsuits differ in that they are proceeding as individual actions and each will seek trials to establish damages not only for property loss, but also for suffering and illness caused by exposure to the elements, mental suffering, and other forms of damage arising from the way the City decided to go about its demolitions. As in the earlier case, personal items, medicine, text books and other essential property was destroyed. Because of the nature and timing of the destruction, the suits also seek losses for significant individual damages beyond property damage. Each suit filed today sets forth the nature of the destruction and damages caused to each plaintiff.
The law firms of Arnold & Porter LLP and Central California Legal Services, Inc. are representing the individuals who filed lawsuits yesterday.
Lawyers for homeless residents anticipate that there will be a significant number of additional individual actions filed in the weeks ahead, though the exact number is unknown. Many homeless residents are still contacting counsel to assert claims.