A federal civil rights lawsuit [complaint, PDF] was filed Monday accusing the city of Los Angeles of endangering homeless people. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles [official website], alleges that the city has endangered the homeless by seizing and destroying their tents and bedding then releasing them into the cold without protection after wrongfully arresting the homeless population. The lawsuit was filed by Carol Sobel, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles [official website] and several private law firms. Ms. Sobel stated “the city’s actions prove the definition of insanity — repeating the same constitutional violations and thinking, somehow, it will come out differently each time.” Ms. Sobel is referring to 2012 when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the city of Los Angeles violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments [Cornell LII backgrounders] to the US Constitution when it seized and destroyed the abandoned property of homeless people. The suit asks the court [LA Times report] to order the city to replace homeless people’s blankets, tents, medication and important documents seized for any reason as well as seeking a temporary restraining order against the city’s enforcement practices.
The rights of homeless people [JURIST news archive] have been a contentious legal issue recently. In August 2012 JURIST guest columnist Sapphire Jule King asserted that states need to enact comprehensive legislation [JURIST comment] to protect the homeless from discrimination. In July of that year JURIST guest columnist Linda Tashbook argued that Rhode Island’s recently-passed Homeless Bill of Rights [text, PDF; JURIST report] provides an improved set of standards [JURIST op-ed] by which states should treat their homeless citizens. In April 2012 the US Department of Justice found that ordinances criminalizing homelessness may violate human rights [JURIST report] as well as the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled in 2008 that current state laws regarding sex offenders are unconstitutional as applied to homeless people [JURIST report]. The state court determined that the law, which did not permit listing “homeless” as an acceptable address, “[did] not give homeless sexual offenders without a residence address fair notice of how they can comply with the statute’s registration requirement.” In 2008 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that his administration had reached a settlement [JURIST report] in a long-standing lawsuit over homeless families’ right to use shelters throughout the city.