Fresno – The City of Fresno is violating the constitutional rights of homeless people whose personal possessions are being destroyed and confiscated in ongoing raids, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court by civil rights groups. The groups are seeking a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction to stop the relentless attacks on Fresno’s homeless residents. The lawsuit was filed in Fresno’s Federal District Court.
The City has carried out numerous raids of areas where homeless people live, destroying their personal belongings, according to the complaint filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the ACLU of Northern California and the law firm of Heller Ehrman, LLP. Clothing, medication, tents and blankets, as well as irreplaceable personal possessions, such as family photographs, personal records and documents have been destroyed. The raids are carried out by Fresno’s Police and Sanitation Departments, who use bulldozers and garbage trucks to confiscate tents and shopping carts full of personal belongings, usually crushing them on the spot, often with the homeless owners watching and protesting.
“The City cannot seize and destroy someone’s property just because they are homeless,” said Paul Alexander, a partner at Heller Ehrman LLP. “The Constitution does not allow it.”
“These unlawful raids on the City’s poorest residents are particularly egregious given the lack of available shelter,” added Oren Sellstrom of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Sellstrom cited a recent report by a consortium of local government agencies and providers that found shelter in the Fresno area is available to only 1.4% of the homeless population, which is estimated at between 4,400 and 8,800. The lack of shelter for women is particularly acute. One of the few shelters in the City for women has capacity for only 25 women on any given night.
Pamela Kincaid has lived for the last 5 to 6 years in the area just south of downtown Fresno. About a year ago, she left her property unattended and when she returned it was gone. “Almost all of my possessions were taken, including important documents like my identification, my birth certificate, and my telephone/address book, which had important contact information for people I want to keep in touch with. Worst of all, I lost family photos, including the only pictures I had of my sister, my daughter, and my deceased mother. Those photos can never be replaced.”
“Until I saw and heard what has been happening I would not have imagined that the City of Fresno would inflict this type of harm on any of its people.” said ACLU-NC attorney Michael Risher. “The City’s attacks on the homeless violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable seizure of property, the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections against the deprivation of property without due process of law, and specific California statutes that require the government to safeguard property that comes into its possession.