OAKLAND – A group of civil-rights organizations has filed suit against the
California Department of Transportation, charging that the agency
violates the rights of homeless people with its ongoing series of
sweeps and targeted raids.
Filed in Alameda County Superior Court on the behalf of several
homeless citizens, the class-action suit alleges that Caltrans
workers regularly violate state and federal laws by conducting the
raids without giving prior notice. Once on the scene, agents are
alleged to be confiscating and destroying the property of homeless
victims by discarding all their belongings in trash compactors.
The complaint claims that among the items regularly lost to
victims are family heirlooms, photographs, tents and sleeping bags,
warm-weather clothing, tools, food, camp stoves, bicycles and other
The organizations that have filed the suit are The Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of
California, East Bay Community Law Center, and the law firm of Wilmer
Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.
According to www.alcunc.org, as far back as 1992, Caltrans agreed to do away with the practice
of seizing and immediately destroying the property of the homeless.
Following those developments, the agency temporarily ceased
conducting such raids.
In 2006, the agency formally instituted a policy that requires
staffers to properly post notice of impending sweeps, allow homeless
individuals to remove their possessions before commencing any raid,
and collect and store any items of apparent value so they can be
claimed by their owners after the sweep.
“Based on that history, this time around we are seeking a
permanent injunction against the agency that operates statewide and
in no way will be just a short-term settlement,” Michael Risher, a
senior attorney with the ACLU, told The Northern California
Record. “This way, we will be able to keep the pressure on them
to do the right thing over the long haul.”
In addition, the suit seeks a monetary judgment for many victims
who have claimed to have lost valuables in raids conducted across
Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville counties.
“We haven’t attached a dollar figure to anything as of yet
because we simply don’t know the number of victims there have truly
been,” Risher said. “Already, we have over 50 client cases where
they have put in claims with the agency stemming from lost property,
and in each and every instance their claims have been largely
Risher said the situation in California isn’t as unique as some
might think, as more and more large-scale transit agencies across the
country are turning to similar methods to rid themselves of the poor
“In California, workers find it more efficient to just go in and
throw out everything, as opposed to surveying the situation and
determining what’s of value to these powerless individuals,” he
According to a recent Alameda County Public Health and EveryOne
Home organization study, an estimated 4,040 people are homeless
across the area, a figure that could rise as housing in the region
becomes more expensive.