San Diego

City Faces Lawsuit From Homeless Over Right to Leave Belongings in Public

The lawsuit is from a group of homeless people who believe they have a right to leave their personal belongings in public spaces

A federal class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 10 homeless people, who claim the city of San Diego is violating their constitutional rights by issuing citations under the city’s encroachment ordinance.

The lawsuit is challenging the ordinance, which essentially prohibits placing objects in a public right of way. In this case, the objects are the personal belongings of the homeless.

“Essentially, as soon as someone puts their belongings on the sidewalk, they can be cited or arrested by police and that’s unconstitutional. We can’t criminalize people just for existing, just for their status of being homeless,” said attorney Kath Rogers.

Rogers said the original intent of the ordinance was to address the placement of trash cans and dumpsters. It has now evolved into an attempt to manage the homeless population.

It’s making a difficult problem even worse, Rogers said. 

“Citations, arrests, warrants for arrests are counterproductive to getting off the street. It’s hard to get off the street and get a job and get housing when you have a warrant for your arrest,” said Rogers.

One of the plaintiffs in the case is Sheri Pasanen, who said she lived under a freeway overpass for more than a year. She feels lucky to only have one citation.

“Where are you going to put your stuff during the time you’re gone. You can’t take it on a bus, so where are you going to put it?” asked Pasanen.

There have been a growing number of arrests and citations, since the encroachment ordinance went into effect in 2008, according to NBC 7's partner Voice of San Diego.

Statistics show that number grew from less than 200 in 2009, to 1,400 in 2013, to 2,200 last year.

Rogers said attorneys have asked a judge to rule that the city is violating constitutional rights of the homeless.

There was no comment available from the city attorney's office. A spokesperson said the lawsuit is still being reviewed.

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