Thursday, June 04, 2009

Humanity for Homeless Habitat

Boston - Coming back to GJ tomorrow. Tired but not able to sleep, which is typical when I'm out and about, in a different hotel bed every night.

I got just about everything accomplished that I set out to do, and I'll detail that (with some photos) after I get back.

In the meantime, a story in today's paper got me thinking, and led me to compose and send the below as an e-mail to the addressees indicated:

John Shaver
City Attorney
City of Grand Junction

Hello, John:

I read with interest the story in today's Sentinel regarding the process of removing the personal property of homeless persons from lands that appear to be both public and privately owned.

In recent months, there have been concerns expressed and complaints raised regarding this type of activity in other parts of the state, specifically in Colorado Springs. In a letter to the Chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department (link here), the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU reported specific concerns and complaints about this practice, and included the below legal references as part of the letter:
Private property located in public spaces, including property belonging to persons who are homeless, is unambiguously protected from unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment and Article II Section 7 of the Colorado constitution. E.g. People v. Schafer, 946 P.2d 938, 844-45 (Colo. 1997) (holding that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a tent on public land); State v. Mooney, 588 A.2d 145, 153-154 (Conn. 1991) (holding homeless defendant had reasonable expectation of privacy in property left under a bridge). In other words, the government cannot search or seize the private property of homeless persons without complying with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and Article II Section 7. E.g. Kincaid v. Fresno, 2006 WL 354273, *41-42 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (holding that practice of indiscriminately seizing and destroying homeless residents’ property violated their Fourth Amendment rights); Pottinger v. Miami, 810 F.Supp. 1551, 1585 (S.D. Fla. 1992) (Holding that City’s unannounced and unjustified seizure and destruction of property left by homeless in public places was unconstitutional).
Furthermore, in cases where the government removes property from public places under the justification that the property is “abandoned” or “trash,” it must provide persons with adequate procedural due process protections. For example, the government must notice of the impending seizure reasonably certain to inform those affected; provide an opportunity for the owners of the private property to object to the impending deprivation; and give notice and the opportunity for persons to reclaim their property. E.g. Kincaid, 2006 WL 354273 at *42 (enjoining City from seizing any property belonging to homeless unless it was evidence of a crime, contraband or posed an immediate threat to public health or safety, and requiring notice and opportunity to be heard before seizure, and adequate pre- or post-deprivation remedy to recover property); Pottinger, 810 F.Supp. at 1585 (enjoining City from destroying homeless’ property, and requiring establishment of a “safe zone” for homeless residents, five days advance notice before any “cleaning,” and other due process protections).
It was reported by the Sentinel that notices are posted at known transient camps in advance of any cleanup efforts. I'm wondering how much of what appears to be applicable law is taken into consideration when developing processes for notifying those residing in transient camps of the City's intent to clean them up, as well as the inventory, storage, and/or disposal of personal property.

Knowing personally the very thorough and comprehensive nature of your office's operations, I'm sure that this has been addressed in some fashion. I'd like to know what specific contingencies are in place to assure that the applicable rights of transient residents are being satisfactorily addressed during this cleanup activity.

I can be reached at the phone numbers or email below. Thanks very much for your time and consideration in this matter.


John L. Linko

cc: Laurie Kadrich, City Manager
Mike Wiggins, The Daily Sentinel
Cathy Hazouri, Executive Director, ACLU of Colorado

The issues regarding public health and safety are likely very valid ones when it comes to dealing with this segment of Grand Junction's transient population. Nevertheless, the cleanup needs to be done in a way that respects the well-established rights of those citizens. I'll share whatever reply I receive from the City or the ACLU in response to my e-mail.

I hope that the past week has been good for you. It was for me, but it's time to come back.
More to share soon.

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