Politics

Federal injunction bars LA from seizing some homeless property

The legal debate over how to handle Downtown LA's tent encampments continued this week with a new injunction limiting the city's options.
The legal debate over how to handle Downtown LA's tent encampments continued this week with a new injunction limiting the city's options.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A U.S. district court judge ruled Wednesday the city of Los Angeles will have to stop seizing the property of homeless people on Skid Row and surrounding areas without notice — a temporary injunction that clashes with the latest attempts to clear downtown L.A.'s sidewalks. 

The ruling comes as part of a federal lawsuit filed against the city earlier this year by four homeless individuals and two advocacy groups. And it comes as the city is trying to implement a new law to limit the amount of property a homeless person can have on the street to 60 gallons worth. 

The lawsuit, Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles, was filed in March. The four homeless plaintiffs, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, allege that homeless people on Skid Row have repeatedly had tents and other personal property, including medication and legal documents, seized or destroyed by police or city sanitation workers.

The injunction calls for a halt on seizure of the property of homeless people on Skid Row and the surrounding areas without providing advance notice or storing the items.

“Although a preliminary injunction will place additional burdens on the city to keep Los Angeles safe, Plaintiffs risk greater harm if the preliminary injunction is not granted,” Federal District Judge James Otero wrote in the court order. “To put it bluntly, Plaintiffs may not survive without some of the essential property that has been confiscated.”

The injunction may hinder officials trying to enforce the new city law on homeless property.

L.A.'s City Council passed the law unanimously (with two members absent) and Mayor Eric Garcetti signed it earlier this month. The text of the ordinance says it is designed to “balance the needs of all of the City’s residents,” by keeping the streets clear and accessible to everyone, but allowing homeless people to keep essential property.

It requires tents to be taken down between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and limits a homeless person to 60 gallons worth of property on the street. In some cases, it allows for seizure of property without prior notice.

Lt. Andy Mathes with LAPD’s Central Division, told KPCC recently he was hopeful that the restrictions would help contribute to reducing crime around Skid Row, since tents left up during the day provide places to hide criminal activity, namely drug dealing.

Ares said homeless advocates understand the need for safety and clean streets.

“The bottom line is, those things don’t outweigh the basic rights of due process or of right to property of individuals whether they’re homeless or not," he said.

Ares said he is hopeful the injunction in the lawsuit sends a message to the city that it should re-think its approach to dealing with homelessness.

“Let’s create policy to actually get people off the streets versus putting so much energy into creating policy and enforcement that just punishes people for being poor but does nothing to get them off the streets,” Ares said.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office said, “We are evaluating court’s order and we will work with public works and LAPD to ensure that they comply.”


The injunction will remain in place until the lawsuit is decided.