Homeless sue Los Angeles for arrests and destroying their property
“We brought this suit to prevent the city from engaging in a practice of unlawfully seizing and destroying homeless people’s property. It is an ongoing issue that is only increasing in frequency, which is why we brought the case,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Shayla Meyers told Courthouse News.
The federal civil rights lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, accuses the city and the police department of wrongfully arresting homeless people and seizing their lawful shopping carts as part of a “criminalization” campaign.
Some estimate there to be 25,000 living in the city of Los Angeles and as many as 44,000 in the county. The Los Angeles Home Services Authority said that from a 2015 count, the number of homeless increased by 12 percent over the last two years.
“Over the past 25 years, the city’s primary response has been to invest in approaches that address the visible presence of homeless people without actually reducing the number of residents on streets each night,” the lawsuit charged.
City lawmakers have been trying to find solutions to the problem. A plan was devised to build low-income housing units over the next five years to try and help families and veterans get housing, but despite promising to commit $100 million each year, the city has no money to fund the initiative. Under a 2007 settlement in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, the city is obligated to building affordable housing for Skid Row residents.
What money has been allocated towards homeless programs has ironically gone to enforcing a city council ordinance that gave police enhanced powers to clear the homeless and their possession from sidewalks and streets.
The complaint said 90 percent of the $87 million to $100 million it spent in 2014 was used by the LAPD against the homeless citing a report by the city’s chief administrative officer.
“In the meantime, the city has begun a renewed vigorous and cruel enforcement of so-called ‘quality of life’ offense against the homeless, charging them with misdemeanor offenses, jailing them for quality of life offenses and destroying their property,” Meyers told Courthouse News.
There are four named plaintiffs in the suit as well as the Los Angeles Catholic Workers and Los Angeles Community Action Network. Federal courts and the Ninth Circuit have previously ruled that seizing and destroying homeless people’s property is unconstitutional, because homeless people still have private property even though they do not have homes.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Carl Mitchell, 62, was arrested this year in Skid Row and charged with possession of a stolen shopping cart that he said he had not taken. An LAPD officer refused to give him his backpack containing medications and medical appointment papers, and he was jailed for 18 hours and released in the middle of the night when the temperature dipped to 40 degrees.
“We see two plans: a rhetorical plan of what we’re going to do when we can, and an actual plan, which is ticketing and arresting people and taking and destroying their property,” Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network, a plaintiff in the suit, told The Los Angeles Times.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti told the LA Times they hadn’t seen the suit. A spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer said the office would review the lawsuit but had no comment.