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ACLU sues city over homeless camp sweeps

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
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The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit against the city Wednesday alleging that it has removed homeless people from sidewalks improperly and in violation of their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, challenges the procedures used by city employees who used the Stored Property Ordinance and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance to remove the individuals and scoop up their belongings on several occasions during the past year.

The legal challenge comes just as city officials are trying to clear the growing homeless encampment in Kakaako.

Specifically, the lawsuit says city employees on multiple occasions failed to give 24 hours warning before seizing the property belonging to the homeless as required. Additionally, city employees gave the individuals no means to recover their property, instead seizing and immediately destroying the property in violation of Fourth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The city workers should have known the property they destroyed was not abandoned and, in some of the instances, were told by the owners of such, the lawsuit states.

“We are asking the court to rule that the ordinances are unconstitutional as applied to our clients,” said Daniel Gluck, ACLU of Hawaii legal director. “The city has not followed basic requirements of due process in seizing and immediately destroying our clients’ property.”

Among the items taken were medication, food and tents necessary to feed and provide shelter for the homeless, as well as state identification cards, the lawsuit says. The 12 named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two children, who were ages 4 and 3 when the raids occurred.

The Stored Property Ordinance allows the city to remove items left on sidewalks provided their owners are given 24-hours notice. The Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance allows the city to seize items on city property if they pose a public nuisance.

Both ordinances require the city to store away seized items for a minimum of 30 days, unless they are perishable, the lawsuit says.

Even when given 24-hours notice, the lawsuit says, the homeless must find places to store their items which, in most cases means finding a place to live.

The due process rights of those whose property have been seized were violated, even if the city stored the property away because the homeless need to travel to Halawa, a far distance, to reclaim them and then pay $200 to do so, the lawsuit says.

English is not the first language of several of the plaintiffs. Their rights were additionally violated because the notices are written only in English, the lawsuit states.

Attorneys for the (de)Occupy Honolulu movement filed a similar federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Stored Property Ordinance in December 2012. The following May, the lawsuit was settled with the city agreeing to outline protections for the group members’ property. One of the stipulations was that a tent owner be allowed to remove untagged items from a tent before it is impounded. 

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