The press release below was originally distributed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and republished with permission.
Under a proposed settlement announced today between the California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) and a class of homeless people whose property was taken by Caltrans crews in sweeps of their encampments, Caltrans will establish a $1.3 million fund to compensate people for the loss of property that was destroyed in the sweeps. In addition, Caltrans will be required to adopt various policies designed to prevent future destruction of homeless people’s property, including posting the exact date they plan to conduct a cleanup operation.
The settlement comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2016 on behalf of homeless Californians who challenged the destruction of their property including food, clothing, medical supplies, and family heirlooms during Caltrans sweeps between December 2014 and October 2019.
They were represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), ACLU of Northern California, and the law firm WilmerHale.
“The Fourth Amendment protects all of us against the unjust seizure of our belongings, not just people who are housed,” said Elisa Della-Piana, LCCR Legal Director. “This settlement will help some of our unhoused neighbors have the chance to get back on their feet without being continually destabilized by property seizures.”
Under a pilot project provided for in the settlement, in Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville Caltrans will be required to post permanent notices at encampments stating the precise dates and times that sweeps will occur. The state will follow specific guidelines mandating the storage of tents, eyeglasses, medications, and personal papers and photos.
The settlement is subject to approval by the Alameda County Superior Court.
“For years we heard complaints of people who told us they had to stand by helplessly while Caltrans crews threw belongings they treasured into trash compacting garbage trucks,” said Osha Neumann, supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center. “Sometimes people with disabilities were given only a few minutes to move everything they wanted to save. We hope, with this settlement, those days are over.”
Under the agreement, Caltrans will also pay $700,000 to plaintiff Homeless Action Center to create a staff position to assist in the recovery of items taken in sweeps and connect unsheltered people with services.
“This settlement shows how Caltrans can be part of the solution to the many problems faced by people experiencing homelessness, rather than continuing to be part of the problem,” said William Freeman, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California. “The agreed-upon procedures will enable our clients to live their lives free from the fear that their worldly possessions will be taken if they are not guarded 24/7.”
Caltrans will also reimburse the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and costs in an amount to be determined by the court, and commits to improve its recordkeeping and personnel training practices.
The Court will retain the power to enforce the promises made by Caltrans for seven years.
“This settlement would not have been possible without the tremendous support we received from our class representatives: Kimberlee Sanchez, Jim Leone, and Patricia Moore,” said Rob Galvin, a partner at WilmerHale. “Despite their own housing and health challenges, their commitment to the case and their guidance to the legal team was both invaluable and inspiring.”