City of Seattle’s Sweeps Policy Violates Privacy Rights and Subjects Unhoused People to Cruel Punishment in Some Circumstances

News Release: 
Monday, July 17, 2023

SEATTLE – A King County Superior Court issued a ruling Thursday holding in part that the rules underlying the City of Seattle’s sweeps policy permit unconstitutional invasions of unhoused Seattle residents’ privacy rights without notice, without presenting them with alternative shelter, and without giving them opportunity to protect their property and shelters. The Court also held the City’s sweeps policy subjects the unhoused to cruel punishment in some circumstances.  

The ACLU-WA, along with pro bono co-counsel, filed the lawsuit Kitcheon v. City of Seattle in 2019 on behalf of Bobby Kitcheon, Candance Ream, and Squirrel Chops, LLC. The Plaintiffs allege that the City’s sweeps – which were used against Kitcheon and Ream – target our most vulnerable neighbors and invades and destroys their homes, tents, and property, resulting in the displacement and criminalization of the unhoused.  

The Court noted that because the number of unhoused individuals in Seattle continues to rise, the claims were matters of public importance that needed the Court’s resolution.  

The Court ruled unhoused people have privacy rights in their homes protected by Article 1, section 7 of Washington’s Constitution. The Court explained that “denying Ream and Kitcheon any protected privacy in their homes would be yet one more permission slip to consider them not fully human.” The Court said: “Washington’s Constitution has historically protected home, and that history belongs [to the unhoused] with as much force as anyone with access to stable housing.”  

The Court found the rules underlying the City’s sweeps policy were unconstitutional because they covered people and property who were not true obstructions. Absent actual hazards, removal requires notice, offer of alternative locations or shelter, and an opportunity to determine whether personal property was taken and how to get it back. These safeguards “allow unhoused people time to preserve their homes and belongings and to reclaim them when taken,” the Court ruled.  

Importantly, the Court also held the City of Seattle’s sweeps policy constituted cruel punishment under Article 1, section 14 of Washington’s Constitution in some circumstances because the sweeps subject the unhoused to criminal and civil penalties for living on public land when there is no alternative to do so. 

This ruling follows the existing body of law that prohibits a city from enforcing ordinances and rules against unhoused people “when there is no other place in the City for them to go.” The Court also recognized that the government cannot avoid this prohibition by issuing civil citations, which can result in criminal penalties.  

La Rond Baker, Legal Director for ACLU-WA, had this reaction: 

“Unhoused people have a right of privacy in the places that they call home. Absent a significant governmental interest and an offer of shelter, the City cannot simply invade the homes of people. The City’s practice ultimately destabilizes people, their communities, and can result in prolonged houselessness.”  

Representing the plaintiffs from ACLU of Washington are legal director La Rond Baker, senior staff attorneys John Midgley and Taryn Darling, and attorney Jazmyn Clark. 

Court documents for the case and additional resources can be found at this link: Kitcheon v. City of Seattle | ACLU of Washington (

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