Seven homeless people have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles in hopes of abolishing a city ordinance that lets sanitation crews discard their items.
According to the lawsuit, the city’s cleanup law and encampment enforcement violates their constitutional protections against unreasonable seizures of private property.
The law permits bulky items, such as couches and chairs, to be removed without prior notice and immediately thrown away.
Janet Garcia, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the city sanitation crews have frequently thrown out supplies that she uses for office and house cleaning jobs she finds online. She said that she has been homeless since she got evicted from her apartment two years ago.
“I had just bought a tiny hand vacuum cleaner and they just swept it away,” Garcia said. “And a couple of bikes. They throw it in the truck and crush it right in front of you.”
Lawyers and advocates involved in this lawsuit said they tried to negotiate with Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council members for months before going to court. They said they asked the city to address public health and dirt in and around encampments by spending more funds on homeless storage, portable bathrooms and trash pickup.
“We did not come to the decision to file this lawsuit easily or quickly,” Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles attorney Shayla Myers said at a news conference. “We asked the city to break the cycle of litigation.”
“What the city did not do is address the unconstitutional issues of [cleanups], and in fact the city increased funding for enforcement,” Myers added.
Jessica Lall, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn., a downtown-based business group, said she worries that abolishing the city’s cleanup law would make it more difficult to open up new temporary homeless shelters.
“If you take away the city’s ability to maintain and clean the sidewalks, it’s going to make it challenging to convince residents to support projects right next to their homes,” she said.