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Lawsuit filed over Seattle’s cleanups of homeless camps

UPDATED: FRIDAY, JAN. 20, 2017, 1:45 P.M.

A man lies in a tent with others camped nearby, under and near an overpass in Seattle on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Seattle has the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
A man lies in a tent with others camped nearby, under and near an overpass in Seattle on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Seattle has the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

SEATTLE – Two homeless people in Seattle filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging the city and the state’s cleanups of unauthorized homeless camps are unlawful.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, says the homeless camp sweeps are “unnecessarily cruel” and violate the rights of people living in them, the Seattle Times reported .

Brandie Osborne and Lisa Hooper are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

They claim homeless residents have their property seized during the sweeps without adequate and effective notice and their belongings get destroyed.

“Imagine if government agents came to your home and carted away everything you own, without any warning and without telling you how to get back whatever they didn’t throw out,” Emily Chiang, the ACLU of Washington’s legal director, said in a statement. “For people living outdoors in Seattle, this horrifying scenario is too often a reality – and has been so for years.”

Hooper has lost family photos, legal paperwork, a mattress, clothing and shoes in the camp sweeps, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking a court order to stop the cleanups that take place along Seattle streets and alongside state roads and highways until officials implement different procedures for conducting them.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has said city intervention at the camp sites is sometimes necessary to address matters regarding trash and public safety.

A spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes declined to comment and said Holmes has yet to review the complaint.

Washington state Department of Transportation spokesman Travis Phelps declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said safety is the agency’s top priority.

“We understand that homelessness is a major issue affecting many across the state,” Phelps said. “However, those camping on WSDOT property are putting both themselves and others at risk. In addition, many of these areas are typically inaccessible to service providers.”

If a judge grants the lawsuit class-action status, an estimated 2,000 homeless people who keep belongings on public property in Seattle could potentially be added as plaintiffs, said Breanne Schuster, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

The lawsuit comes months after a federal judge in Tacoma ruled that Clark County violated the constitutional rights of homeless people by throwing out their belongings.



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