Fresno Homeless Case: Synopses of Plaintiffs Declarations
When the ACLU of Northern California learned in October of 2006 that the City of Fresno was violating the constitutional rights of its homeless residents by seizing and immediately destroying their possessions, we, along with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the law firm of HellerEhrman LLP, filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court.
The following are excerpts from declarations. The full declarations can be found here.
Lead Plaintiff Pamela Kincaid died in August of 2007. Kincaid occasionally stayed at the only women's shelter in Fresno, but she suffered from claustrophobia, which made it difficult for her to remain there. When sanitation workers and police officers seized her belongings, Kincaid lost her birth certificate, her address book, photos of her sister, daughter and mother, and a toolbox with tools she used for the recycling and crafts work she does to earn money, among other items.
"Before I became homeless, I used to have a house and a job. I lost both when I developed injuries at work…I hope that someday I will be able to get off the streets and into permanent housing. But the fact that the city keeps taking and destroying my property makes that goal seem that much harder to achieve. I always live with the fear that the city will come and take what few possessions I have left."
Charlene Clay and her husband left their apartment in 2006 because they could not afford the $850 in rent. They were camped on a hill off of G Street when City of Fresno workers destroyed their belongings – including Clay's teeth, medications, sleeping bags, and personal papers - without warning. A second time, Clay was staying near San Benito and H Streets when police tipped her shopping cart, threw her possessions on the ground, and hauled her cart away.
"The City of Fresno has made it clear to me by destroying my property twice and by the way in which they did that, that because I am a homeless person, I will always be vulnerable to having my property taken and destroyed by City of Fresno workers and police."
Joanna Garcia was born and raised in Fresno. She lost her job after she was mistakenly implicated in a robbery committed by her husband. She has worked at Holy Cross Women's Shelter, earning food vouchers. City workers have seized and destroyed her property five times.
"…my belongings and my boyfriend's belongings were on the grassy strip across the highway from E Street. They were neatly kept. My boyfriend and I had left for the day; I was working at Holy Cross. When we came back that evening, I said to my boyfriend, ';I can't see our home.' All of our belongings were gone, including tents, blankets, personal papers, clothes, my pink bicycle, and irreplaceable pictures of my grandmother and my son."
Douglas Deatherage, 43, worked part time at a trucking company. He watched as City of Fresno workers threw his belongings into a garbage truck.
"My relatively small amount of personal possessions were not bothering anyone and I was ready and willing to move if the City of Fresno workers wanted to clean the area where they were. It was obvious that my property was not abandoned since I was there with it. I was given no opportunity to move my personal property in order to save it from this destruction that morning."