Class-Action Lawsuit Against Caltrans “Homeless Sweeps” Moves Forward

Group of unsheltered Californians certified as a class by Superior Court of California

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OAKLAND — A lawsuit challenging Caltrans’ practice of unconstitutionally seizing and destroying homeless people’s property will move forward as a class action in accordance with yesterday’s ruling from the Superior Court of California. The plaintiffs seek statewide relief from Caltrans’ encampment sweep practices.

The case, Sanchez v. Caltrans, was brought by unhoused persons who have had property taken and destroyed by Caltrans crews during so-called “homeless sweeps,” together with the Homeless Action Center and two California taxpayers. The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), East Bay Community Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, and law firm WilmerHale.

“State authorities should address the roots of the displacement crisis instead of punishing people who are already down on their luck,” said Elisa-Della Piana, LCCR Legal Director. “The Constitution protects all of us from unreasonable government search and seizure. You don’t lose the right to your property when you lose your housing. Today’s class certification brings us one step closer to demonstrating that in court.”

Plaintiffs alleged that Caltrans has taken and destroyed property including family heirlooms, food and medical supplies, and even walkers and other mobility aids. As a result of the court’s ruling, unhoused people in Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville may pursue damages as a class for Caltrans’ illegal actions.

“For years I’ve been hearing the same story over and over again,” says Osha Neumann, supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center. “Homeless people describing to me some of their most precious possessions being thrown into the trash compactor by Caltrans crews ‘cleaning up’ their encampment. I hope this decision will prove to be a step towards finally writing ‘closed’ on that chapter of their lives, and the beginning of a new chapter in which they and their possessions are given the respect they deserve and to which they are entitled.”

Through the litigation, Plaintiffs have obtained evidence that Caltrans crews do not even follow the agency’s own internal policy in these sweeps, which has resulted in at least one death involving a woman in Modesto who was inside a tent when a Caltrans bulldozer crushed it.

“Unhoused individuals and individuals who have no choice but to live on the streets, like anyone else, have the right to be treated with dignity and respect,”said ACLU staff attorney Abre’ Conner. “The courageous plaintiffs in this case have joined together to make sure that others will not have to endure the hardship and loss that they have.”

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