San Diego’s Homeless Win Dignity and a Storage Facility

January 11, 2011

SAN DIEGO – Downtown’s homeless people will have a new place to safely store their personal belongings as a part of a legal settlement approved today by the San Diego City Council, in an agreement presented by the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Dreher Law Firm and the San Diego City Attorney. This settlement comes after a year of negotiations following the class action lawsuit filed by ACLU and the Dreher Law Firm challenging the city’s policy of conducting raids in which city workers, escorted by police, seized and summarily destroyed the possessions of homeless men and women.

The settlement, which is contingent on the approval of the district court, requires the City of San Diego to provide funding to create a new downtown storage facility. The facility, to be operated by the Isaiah Project, will consists of five hundred 96-gallon “storage bins” that local homeless people may use for the safekeeping of their personal items, such as important personal documents, medicines and family photographs.

“We are thrilled to have reached an agreement that respects the individual rights of homeless people here in San Diego,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the San Diego’s ACLU. “This illustrates that even though you are vulnerable, even if you have limited means, you are still a full citizen of the United States, and your rights must be respected by the government.”

The suit, which the ACLU and Dreher Law Firm filed in December 2009, claimed that the City of San Diego had established policies and practices that discriminated against homeless individuals and violated their constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure and confiscation of property without due process.

According to the complaint, on at least three occasions in September and October of 2009, police officers and environmental services workers apparently watched as homeless men and women temporarily stored their possessions in front of a fenced-off vacant lot and then walked inside God’s Extended Hand, a small East Village church, or the Neil Good Day Center, a facility that provides showers, laundry, and information and referral services for the homeless. City workers and police officers then immediately descended on the people’s possessions, tossing everything—including shopping carts owned by the Isaiah Project—into an attending garbage truck and compactor, crushing everything.

Within a week after the class action lawsuit was filed, the City Attorney’s office approached plaintiffs’ attorneys asking for informal discussions to resolve the issues. All parties were eager to resolve the issue without further litigation if possible.

“This is a smart solution to a complex problem,” said Scott Dreher of Dreher Law Firm. “Not only does this provides a much needed service for our city’s homeless, it is a sensible and humane way to keep our city streets clean for growing and expanding businesses.”