IMPACT

It Just Got Harder For LA Police To Confiscate Homeless People's Possessions

Cops often fail to distinguish between contaminated property and that which is essential for homeless people to survive.
Los Angeles Police officers with the Central Area move in to arrest a homeless woman found sleeping on a sidewalk in the Skid
Los Angeles Police officers with the Central Area move in to arrest a homeless woman found sleeping on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.

Police can no longer indiscriminately confiscate homeless people’s medications and other critical belongings on Skid Row, a federal judge announced in a preliminary injunction. 

The decision comes at a time when tensions have been rising surrounding the issue of how authorities should handle homeless people’s possessions in Los Angeles. While homeless people in LA still have limits on the amount of stuff they can cart around, police can’t take the possessions of those living on Skid Row without notifying them in advance, according to the injunction filed by U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero.

And, if cops do confiscate homeless people’s belongings, they need to be made accessible for the owners to retrieve them. 

The preliminary injunction came as a response to a lawsuit filed by a number of LA nonprofits and a group of homeless people who alleged that their constitutional rights were violated during mass clearings. The plaintiffs hoped for an injunction that would pertain to the entire city, but the ruling was limited to Skid Row and its adjoining areas, according to the LA Times. 

A homeless man sleeps behind his shopping cart on a sidewalk on downtown Los Angeles. 
A homeless man sleeps behind his shopping cart on a sidewalk on downtown Los Angeles. 

The judge noted that it’s within city employees’ rights to seize or destroy anything that poses “threats to public health and safety -- like, property infested with rats, contraband and crime scene evidence. 

But when it comes to homeless people’s basic essentials, city employees can’t confiscate them without following a new set of protocols.

The issue, the judge noted, is that cops often fail to distinguish between contaminated property and that which is essential for homeless people to survive.

In one case, a homeless person living with diabetes had the medical equipment she relies on to manage her disease taken away. 

Before engaging in a mass clearing, the city must provide 24-hours' notice, so homeless people have the opportunity to gather up their belongings. Whatever is taken needs to be stored in a facility that’s open during regular business hours and that catalogs the items, so the owners can easily identify and retrieve them. Basic essentials -- including sleeping bags and medication -- need to be available within a day of its seizure or a person’s release from custody.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a homelessness state of emergency in September and the city is intent on identifying innovative solutions to fund affordable housing projects for homeless people. 

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