Judge Approves Homeless Property Class Action Settlement

The Water Man Storage Facility - bins

Photo by Bear Guerra.

SAN DIEGO – More than two years after a series of aggressive raids in which city workers seized and summarily destroyed the possessions of homeless men and women, a federal judge approved a settlement calling for the city to fund a storage facility for belongings of homeless people and compensate those who had property destroyed in the raids.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo last Tuesday approved the settlement agreed to by all parties. The key elements of the agreement are:

  • The city agrees to establish and comply with new policies and procedures for the cleanup, removal and storage of personal property found on city streets and property;
  • The city and Downtown San Diego Partnership have agreed to pay a total of $160,000, including:
    – $100,000 to be used by the Isaiah Project to staff and operate a storage facility, which has been in operation since February 2011, based on funding disbursed by the city in advance of the settlement’s approval.
    – A large warehouse in downtown San Diego with 500 storage bins
    – $20,000 to compensate the class members
    – $40,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs
  •  The parties agree that the Court retains jurisdiction of this matter to resolve any compliance issues.

“We are very satisfied with the court’s order,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “This case represents an important victory for the city’s most vulnerable residents. It shows that if you speak up for your rights, our legal system will listen to reason.” Blair-Loy expressed concern, however, that the storage facility, which has been met with resounding praise from civic, political and nonprofit leaders alike, is only funded through the end of February 2012. “Now the task is to extend the funding to keep the storage facility going, and even consider expanding it to other locations. I hope the community, especially business leaders, will recognize this project is good for everyone, not just homeless people.”

The San Diego ACLU and the Scott Dreher of the Dreher Law Firm filed a lawsuit in December 2009 calling for a permanent injunction stopping the city from repeating the unlawful, unconstitutional policies and practices, saying that there was “no legitimate, lawful or moral basis…for this wholesale destruction of people’s property.”

Judge Gallo described the settlement as a “win-win for everyone” and praised all of the attorneys for working together to solve a troubling civic problem. He gave special acknowledgement to Dreher, noting his personal contributions to the administrative costs associated with the lawsuit, saying, “It’s not often that we see this kind of generosity and selflessness in the legal profession, and Mr. Dreher is to be highly commended for his philanthropy.” In a similar vein, Dreher emphasized the city’s willingness to come to the table right away to work out a solution as a highlight of the litigation process.

The storage facility has been an enormous success, widely praised by community and business leaders. Homeless individuals now have a place to store their items while the look for work, seek treatment and attend programs at local care centers.