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ACLU asking judge to stop Honolulu homeless sweeps

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii is asking a federal judge to quickly stop Honolulu officials from clearing homeless encampments.

Attorneys representing the ACLU and residents of one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments filed a lawsuit last week claiming city officials deprive homeless people of food and other belongings during sweeps of the encampments. Homeless families lost medication, identification documents and valuable belongings in the sweeps, the lawsuit said.

The ACLU filed a motion Monday saying it’s unconstitutional to seize and destroy homeless people’s property and a temporary restraining order is necessary because the city distributed signs indicating it will immediately destroy certain property. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Paul Alston, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said the judge needs to hear the case immediately because the city accelerated its sweep schedule after the lawsuit was filed. The city was conducting a sweep Tuesday.

The city didn’t immediately comment on that allegation. Honolulu officials have said previously they will defend the lawsuit vigorously and continue the sweeps.

The lawsuit involves Honolulu’s stored property ordinance, which requires the city to give 24 hours’ notice before seizing property and to store it so people can retrieve belongings for a $200 fee.

Litter and debris will be thrown away and other items “that have value” will be stored by the city, Ross Sasamura, director and chief engineer of the city’s Department of Facility Maintenance, said during a sweep last week.

The city isn’t following its ordinance, and it can’t take away people’s property “like a thief in the night,” the ACLU’s motion said.

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