This week a U.S. district court judge ruled the city of Los Angeles must stop seizing the property of homeless people on Skid Row and surrounding areas without notice, which is a temporary injunction that conflicts with the latest attempts to clear downtown L.A.’s sidewalks.
According to news reports, the ruling, which comes as the city is attempting to implement a new ordinance that would limit the amount of property a homeless person would be allowed to have on the street to 60 gallons worth. This is also a part of a federal lawsuit two advocacy groups and four homeless individuals filed against the city.
The KPCC radio station report said the lawsuit, Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles, was filed in March. The homeless plaintiffs, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, allege that homeless people on Skid Row have had tents and other personal property, including medication and legal documents, seized or destroyed by police or city sanitation workers. The injunction calls for a halt on seizure of the property of homeless people on Skid Row and the surrounding areas without providing advance notice or storing the items.
“Although a preliminary injunction will place additional burdens on the city to keep Los Angeles safe, Plaintiffs risk greater harm if the preliminary injunction is not granted,” Federal District Judge James Otero wrote in the court order. “To put it bluntly, Plaintiffs may not survive without some of the essential property that has been confiscated.”
L.A.’s City Council passed the law unanimously (with two members absent), and Mayor Eric Garcetti signed it earlier this month, KPCC said. The text of the ordinance says it is designed to “balance the needs of all of the city’s residents,” by keeping the streets clear and accessible to everyone, but allowing homeless people to keep essential property. It requires tents to be taken down between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and it limits a homeless person to 60 gallons worth of property on the street. In some cases, it allows for seizure of property without prior notice is allowed.
Lt. Andy Mathes of LAPD’s Central Division, told KPCC reporters recently he was hopeful that the restrictions would help contribute to reducing crime around Skid Row, since tents left up during the day provide places to hide criminal activity, namely drug dealing. Eric Ares, an activist with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said homeless advocates understand the need for safety and clean streets. “The bottom line is,” Mathes said, “those things don’t outweigh the basic rights of due process or of right to property of individuals whether they’re homeless or not.”
Ares is hopeful the injunction in the lawsuit sends a message to the city that it should re-think its approach to dealing with homelessness, the KPCC report said.
“Let’s create policy to actually get people off the streets versus putting so much energy into creating policy and enforcement that just punishes people for being poor but does nothing to get them off the streets,” Ares said.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said, “We are evaluating court’s order, and we will work with public works and LAPD to ensure that they comply.”
The injunction will remain in place until the lawsuit is decided.