San Diego's unhoused lose personal items in encampment sweeps. Lawsuit claims that's unconstitutional

The lawsuit claims the constitutional rights of homeless people in some parts of San Diego County were violated by encampment clean-ups

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A lawsuit filed this week in federal court claims agencies involved in East San Diego County homeless encampment sweeps violated the rights of unhoused citizens.

The suit claims San Diego County, the cities of Lakeside, Santee and San Diego along with Cal Trans and the CHP illegally removed homeless people’s personal belongings, including family photos, jewels, important papers and the cremated ashes of loved ones. Doing so, the lawsuit says, is “endangering and harming the health and safety of citizens who have nowhere to sleep, live, or be.”

The suit also says the defendants, “reject the notion that homeless people are citizens” who deserve the same rights as everyone else.

Several homeless people are named as plaintiffs in the suit, as is a Lakeside organization called Hope for the Homeless. They ask that personal items be returned and that unspecified damages be paid.

Sofia Cardenas works for The Alpha Group, a homeless advocacy organization. They are not involved in the lawsuit but understand the issues at play.

“Sometimes in those sweeps, it might look like trash but an ID, a social security card, things like that get caught up in the hustle of the moment and go missing and make it harder to find housing and if that housing were to become available, sometimes you need those documents to access it,” said Cardenas.

Cardenas also mentioned that the City of San Diego has taken steps to make homeless encampment sweeps less painful for those who live on the streets.  Three days’ notice is given before sweeps in San Diego and the city has safe storage places where the unhoused can secure their valuables and important papers.

Scott Dreher, an attorney who filed the lawsuit told NBC 7, counties have a duty to care for those who can’t care for themselves. 

“You have to treat people like people,” he said. 

Dreher told NBC 7 he hopes the defendants in the lawsuit will come to the table to discuss ways to be more humane to those who live on the streets. 

The County of San Diego declined to comment.

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