ACLU-WA Suit to Stop Destruction of Homeless People’s Property Will Move Forward

News Release: 
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
The U.S. District Court today denied the ACLU’s motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the City of Seattle and the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) from seizing and summarily destroying homeless people’s property without probable cause and constitutionally adequate notice.

“While the judge did not grant a motion for immediate action by the court, our lawsuit seeking to stop the unconstitutional seizure and destruction of property owned by people who live outdoors in Seattle continues to move forward,” said Emily Chiang, Legal Director of the ACLU of Washington. “Protecting the rights of homeless people not to have their vital possessions destroyed by public officials remains urgent.”

The motion for a TRO came in a class action suit filed by the ACLU-WA on Jan. 19 on behalf of Lisa Hooper and Brandie Osborne, along with the Episcopal Diocese and Real Change, against the City of Seattle and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for violating the constitutional rights of people living outside by seizing and often throwing away their property – without adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, or a meaningful way to reclaim any property that was not immediately destroyed. Property seized and sometimes thrown out includes tents and sleeping bags they need to survive the cold.

The lawsuit would not stop the City from collecting actual garbage or waste on public property, nor would it preclude the City from offering outreach or services to unhoused individuals that address the root causes of homelessness.

“Taking sleeping bags and tents from homeless people doesn’t get them housing,” Chiang said. “It only makes it harder for them to survive outdoors.”

According to the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH), approximately 2,000 people who lack stable or permanent housing were living outdoors within Seattle city limits in 2016. That number is likely substantially higher now.

Representing the Plaintiffs are ACLU-WA cooperating attorneys Todd Williams and Blake Mark-Dias of Corr Cronin Micheslon Baumgardner, Fogg, and Moore LLP, and ACLU-WA staff attorneys Emily Chiang, Nancy Talner, and Breanne Schuster.