Sweeps of Homeless Camps Violate Basic Constitutional Rights

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by Jerry Nelson

Once more, homeless veterans find themselves in a curious situation. They are discussed during the Presidential debates – but no one in government is actually doing anything concrete and constructive to end the national shame.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans:

45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic,
9% are between 18 and 30,
41% are between 31 and 50

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

A new court ruling may be the beginning of meaningful change. Before change is lasting, more Americans need to put themselves into the boots of homeless American veterans.

Imagine going out for dinner with your spouse. You get home and find everything you own piled up on the sidewalk.

Perhaps, you go to the unemployment office and when you return to your apartment everything you own is gone.

How would you feel? What would you think? Both are situations happening dozens of times each day in America.

The overreach of the government may be coming to an end.

Judge Robert Bryan ruled on September 16, 2016, that Clark County’s work crews violated the constitutional rights of homeless residents by tossing their shelters, cookers, medicine and other personal belongings into the trash. The homeless encampment sweeps, which lasted from 2012 until 2014 will cost the county financially.

“The documented evidence shows the county’s workers took all property left unattended and destroyed the possessions,” the judge noted in his decision.

Controversy swirls around encampment sweeps as government officials try to deal with increasing incidences of homelessness nationally. Advocates for the homeless filed numerous suits over sweeps in Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles and other urban areas.

“It’s vital to recognize homeless persons as possessingrights as well; including the right to due process when state officials confiscate their property,” said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU. “While the properties might not be of significant cash value, they can be critical to persons who do not have housing.”

Civil rights organizations in Washington State urged Seattle to modify its strategy for homeless camps. The ACLU said the Justice Department previously warned Idaho “If someone has nowhere to go, implementation of the anti-camping statute criminalizes them for being without a home.”

In March 2012, Washington State approved a plan that crews should quickly clean up and remove camps if they are abandoned. If the camps are not empty, the government said the workers were to provide a one-hour notice that the inhabitants needed to leave the area, taking their possessions with them.

The crews acted regardless of if the place was vacant. One supervisor declared in an affidavit that, despite his workers telling him a campsite appeared to be maintained, he instructed them to clean up regardless.

Some campers went to eat at a nearby shelter. They returned and found the crews taking their belongings and declining to return it.

Terry Ellis, a homeless individual, placed a rucksack at a bus stop while he helped a female whose vehicle had broken down. Even though Ellis was in view when the crew came, the team took it and ignored his explanation for why he had left it there.

Inside the bag were brand-new garments he had been given so he could find work.

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