ACLU-WA Asks Court to Halt Seattle’s Illegal Seizure and Destruction of Unhoused Peoples' Property

News Release: 
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Today the ACLU of Washington is asking the U.S. District Court in Seattle to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the City of Seattle and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) from taking and throwing away property owned by people living outside. The ACLU-WA will also ask the Court to certify the lawsuit as a class action and allow the individually named Plaintiffs—Lisa Hooper, Brandie Osborne, Kayla Willis, and Reavy Washington— to represent the class.
The action comes in a class action lawsuit (Hooper v. City of Seattle) the ACLU of Washington filed in January against the City and WSDOT for violating the constitutional rights of people living outside by seizing and discarding their property without adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, or a meaningful way to reclaim any property that was not immediately destroyed. The Episcopal Diocese and Real Change also are plaintiffs in the suit.
“In this country, the government can’t just take and destroy your personal property without at least telling you formally that it’s going to do so and giving you a meaningful opportunity to get it back,” said Breanne Schuster, ACLU-WA Staff Attorney.
Nearly two years after the Mayor declared a state of emergency on homelessness, the rates of people living outside have only increased. A 2017 count found more than 2,000 people sleeping outside in Seattle in the dead of winter, with no shelter but what that they can erect themselves in the form of materials like tarps, blankets, and tents. Not since the Great Depression have so many people been forced to live outdoors in our city. By seizing and frequently discarding items that these individuals own and that are essential to their daily living, the City and WSDOT are worsening their circumstances.
“Taking sleeping bags and tents from homeless people actually makes it less likely that they’ll be able to connect with the services they need and do the things they need to do to get into housing,” said Emily Chiang, Legal Director of the ACLU-WA. “It is profoundly destabilizing and only makes it harder for them to survive outdoors.”
If issued, the injunction would not stop the City from collecting actual garbage or waste on public property, nor would it preclude the City from offering outreach or services to unhoused individuals that address the root causes of homelessness. And it would not prevent the City from dealing with immediate health and safety concerns.
Representing the Plaintiffs are ACLU-WA cooperating attorneys Todd Williams and Eric Lindberg of Corr Cronin Micheslon Baumgardner, Fogg, and Moore LLP, and ACLU-WA staff attorneys Nancy Talner and Breanne Schuster.