The city of Los Angeles is challenging a lower court ruling on homeless personal property that has implications for all U.S. cities. Los Angeles challenged a Ninth Circuit court ruling that prohibits the city from randomly seizing and destroying belongings that homeless people must leave briefly unattended on public sidewalks. At one point, Los Angeles committed an unusually aggressive and random seizure that started a two year long battle with homeless people and their advocates. According to a Feb. 27 report in the LA Times, the Supreme Court decision will affect all cities facing concentrations of homeless people who have property rights.
The Supreme Court has not yet decided to hear the case.
According to a Sept. 6, 2012 Jurist.org article, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made a 2-1 decision that the city of Los Angeles violated the fourth and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution when it seized and destroyed homeless people’s abandoned property. The main problem is with random seizures where homeless people do not have notice or the right to be heard. The appeals court made an exception in cases where the property is an immediate health threat or contains criminal evidence.
The city had requested that homeless people’s property be excepted from due process requirements and only one judge dissented to that request, reasoning that the amendments do not apply to personal property in public places. The main problem is the issue of discrimination when different interpretations apply to homeless people.
Homeless advocates have been fighting Los Angeles for two years. The main battlefield is downtown Skid Row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people. The city tried to cite health concerns, the latest being an outbreak of Tuberculosis that has infected almost 80 people and killed eleven. Opponents say the TB outbreak has nothing to do with homeless people’s property.
The battle began when seven men and one woman accused city workers and police of taking and destroying their property while they used restrooms, filled water jugs or took care of court appearances. The property included identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries and was kept in carts provided by social service groups. Some individuals were held back even after they showed up in time to retrieve their carts.
The case has widespread implications for cities with histories of seizing and destroying homeless property. A Federal District Court ordered the city of Fresno to stop such seizures last November. This is according to a Nov. 23 New York Times article.
In Hawaii, De-Occupy Honolulu activists requested injunctions against property taking. In Sacramento, almost 900 homeless men and women filed reimbursement claims for bicycles, tents and other items that police had been seizing from illegal campsites since 2005, according to a Jun. 8, 2012 article in the Sacramento Bee.