A federal judge won’t immediately impose restrictions on how Seattle and Washington state deal with unauthorized homeless encampments.
A federal judge won’t immediately impose restrictions on how Seattle and Washington state clean up and evict people from unauthorized homeless encampments.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, in a written ruling Tuesday, denied a request for a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit filed by two homeless people this past month.
The case will move forward without an order.
The plaintiffs — represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington — are accusing the city and the state transportation department of violating the constitutional rights of people living outdoors by seizing and destroying their personal property without sufficient notice and process.
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The city and state say they must sweep encampments to keep Seattle clean and safe.
They have rules on the books for clearing encampments, including requirements for notifying occupants and storing their belongings.
A Seattle Times report last year documented problems, including missed start-times and complaints of lost belongings, such as critical documents and keepsakes.
Joined in the lawsuit by the region’s Episcopal Diocese and the Real Change street newspaper, the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for an estimated 20,000 homeless people.
They proposed a temporary restraining order that would have forced officials to abide by a number of new restrictions when throwing away property from encampments.
In a hearing Monday, their lawyer told Martinez the order was needed because people in unauthorized encampments are being subjected to ongoing harm in the form of rolling sweeps.
In 968 cleanups over 21 recent months in Seattle, belongings were inventoried only 7 percent of the time, said the lawyer, Todd Williams.
A lawyer for the city described those numbers as misleading. Matthew Segal conceded that the sweeps aren’t always perfect, but he said the city “is going out of its way … to provide greater protections” for people living outdoors.
In his ruling Tuesday, Martinez said that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a high likelihood of winning the case and failed to demonstrate that not granting a temporary restraining order would result in irreparable harm. But the case is in its beginning stages, the judge noted.
“The court is not blind to the hardships faced by the unhoused plaintiffs under the circumstances presented in this case,” Martinez wrote. “The court recognizes their constitutional property rights, and makes no final determination at this time as to whether they will ultimately be successful on their claims.”
The judge added, “Indeed, the court emphasizes that its analysis at this stage is a preliminary one. Thus, this decision reflects the state of the record at these early stages of the proceedings and the limited evidence before the court at this time.”
In a statement, ACLU of Washington Legal Director Emily Chiang said her organization would continue to press the suit.
“Protecting the rights of homeless people not to have their vital possessions destroyed by public officials remains urgent,” Chiang said.
“Taking sleeping bags and tents from homeless people doesn’t get them housing,” she added. “It only makes it harder for them to survive outdoors.”