Seattle, State Face Class-Action Lawsuit Over Homeless Encampment Sweeps

Jan 19, 2017

A class-action lawsuit claims city and state procedures for clearing away Seattle's homeless encampments are unconstitutional. 

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court in Seattle by two homeless women and two organizations that aid the homeless: the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia and the Real Change newspaper.

They claim the way city and State Department of Transportation workers clean up the encampments is unlawful because homeless people often lose their property without sufficient warning and with no way to get it back. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which is representing the plaintiffs, says the procedures violate property rights.

"What our plaintiffs are asking really is quite simple," said Breanne Schuster, an attorney with the organization. "It’s just to say, 'If you’re going to come into an area where people are living and taking their belongings, then you give them some sort of notice — a meaningful notice, an effective notice, right? — so that they can actually move their property, move their belongings out of the way.'" 

She said the plaintiffs are also calling for a reliable way to retrieve belongings that are cleared away.

"These are Seattle residents, these are community members, and it's really important that we respect their rights just like we would anyone else," Schuster said. 

Debate has swirled around the so-called “sweeps” of encampments. The Seattle City Council considered legislation last year that would have limited the clean-ups.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled what he called more “compassionate” procedures in October. But Schuster said they aren’t working as intended.

A Seattle spokeswoman said Thursday that the city hadn't yet received the lawsuit. A representative of the State Department of Transportation did not return a call seeking comment.