Activists protest Murray’s sweep of “The Jungle” last year. Photo by Casey Jaywork.

ACLU WA Asks for Restraining Order to Stop Seattle Homeless Sweeps

The civil liberties group is already suing Seattle over the sweeps, arguing they violate the Constitution.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion seeking a Temporary Restraining Order to stop Seattle and state officials from grabbing and trashing homeless people’s property, according to a press release. The motion is part of the lawsuit the ACLU has filed on behalf of two homeless people, the Episcopal Diocese, and Real Change newspaper. In that suit, they argue that Seattle’s homeless sweeps violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable search and seizure and the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to due process.

From the press release:

“The violations of rights have continued unabated since the Plaintiffs sued the City and WSDOT on January 19, 2017. For example, on January 26, during one of the coldest months of the year, Plaintiff Brandie Osborne was told without notice that she had to pack up everything she owned and leave her place of residence within 30 minutes. When Ms. Osborne explained that she had been provided no notice, she was told that Defendants did not have to issue notice. Because Ms. Osborne could not move everything in such a short time, many of her belongings were destroyed.

“The Defendants have recently doubled down on their illegal policies and practices. On January 31, without any consultation or outreach to the Plaintiffs, the City proposed new rules that would enable it to remove without notice the belongings of virtually any unhoused person on City- owned or City-controlled property or many of the other areas where homeless encampments currently exist. Moreover, the Defendants’ ongoing practices demonstrate that even if they were to adopt official policies and procedures that comply with constitutional rights, there is no guarantee that Defendants actually would follow them without a court order.”

The ACLU is not alone in objecting to homeless sweeps on constitutional grounds. In 2015, the Department of Justice argued that cities which do not provide adequate shelter space to homeless people have “ordinances [which] amount to the criminalization of homelessness,” in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. We’ve argued previously that sweeps are both immoral and impractical.

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