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U.S. Supreme Court

Forbidden to randomly seize unattended homeless belongings, city asks SCOTUS to overturn ruling

Posted Feb 28, 2013 5:04 PM CDT
By Terry Carter

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The city of Los Angeles is expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court today to overturn an injunction preventing the removal and destruction of personal property left unattended on sidewalks by the homeless, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction last September, saying the city could seize such property only if it has been clearly abandoned, not just temporarily left unattended, or poses an immediate health or safety threat or might be needed as evidence of a crime.

Many cities around the country are struggling with ever-increasing numbers of homeless. If the high court takes the case, any ruling likely will be far-reaching.

Los Angeles’ so-called skid row, actually the Central City East section of downtown, has the city’s heaviest concentration of homeless residents. A recent outbreak of tuberculosis prompted scientists from the Centers for Disease Control to visit the city, and Los Angeles officials have advised police patrolling skid row to wear masks. the Los Angeles Times' L.A. Now blog reported.

It is with that backdrop that city attorney announced the scheduled Supreme Court filing that, in effect, declares a public health disaster, and issued a statement saying there is an obligation to both the homeless and other residents and businesses on skid row to regularly clean the streets and sidewalks. “The current outbreak of tuberculosis among that most vulnerable population should serve as a stern reminder to all of us just who and what is at risk,” city attorney Carmen Trutanich said in the prepared statement.

Besides random sweeps that removed and destroyed property while some homeless residents were away using restrooms or on other brief ventures—a sweep like this is what prompted the original court case—the city also has announced cleanups in advance and tagged and bagged property for retrieval by the owners. The latter effort was lauded by homeless advocates.

A lawyer for the homeless, Carol Sobel, said the TB outbreak is not related to belongings left on sidewalks and streets and accused the city of deliberately letting the cleanliness situation worsen to help prove their case. “They have a public health issue of their making.”

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