The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Honolulu, claiming city officials deprived homeless people of food and other belongings during raids on encampments.
The attorneys filed the suit on behalf of residents of one of the nation's largest homeless encampments and formerly homeless families who say they lost medication, identification documents and valuable belongings in the sweeps.
Several children, identified by just their initials, were listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which says they have gone hungry after city raids where food stored by their parents was thrown out.
"The Constitution prohibits what the city has done repeatedly to our clients, which is to come up to them and seize and destroy their property without any recourse whatsoever," said Dan Gluck, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii.
Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong says her department will defend the city vigorously. She says the city will continue to enforce those laws. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The suit involves the stored property ordinance, which requires the city to give 24 hours of notice before seizing property and to store it so people can retrieve belongings for a $200 fee.
"Instead of impounding it like the ordinances say that the city should do, they've been immediately destroying our clients' property," said Kristin Holland, attorney who co-filed the suit.
City officials recently stepped up enforcement of rules that ban blocking or storing property on sidewalks. They cleared tents from a section of the large Honolulu encampment last week and planned to clear another small section Thursday.
The lawsuit has not changed that plan, Caldwell's spokesman Jesse Van Dyke said in an email.
The ACLU is seeking a court order to halt future sweeps and compensation for clients whose property has been destroyed.
Tabatha Martin, who lives in the camp with her husband and 4-year-old daughter, said her family lost their tent and her daughter's Christmas presents in a sweep last year.
"A lot of people lost their stuff," Martin said. "It's just hard ... we're people too."
An estimated 600,000 Americans are homeless on any given night, yet there are few city-funded projects that offer them free and safe places to store their belongings, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Honolulu banned storing property on sidewalks several years ago and prohibited sitting and lying down in Waikiki last year after tourists complained about too many homeless people near the beach.
Caldwell pushed for the first sit-lie ban in Waikiki and a later ban in Chinatown, but he was concerned about legal challenges to the City Council's recent expansions. He vetoed those bills but was overridden by the council.
The Associated Press