Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Sept. 23, 2020

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Clark County settles homeless case for $250,000

Judge ruled against policy of seizing homeless people’s belongings

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

Clark County will pay $250,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees after a federal judge found earlier this month that the county was liable for seizing homeless people’s belongings.

The council voted to approve the settlement agreement Wednesday, which includes $165,000 for attorneys’ fees and $85,000 for the six plaintiffs in the suit, all of whom accused the county of throwing out their belongings during cleanups from 2012 to 2014. Judge Robert Bryan ruled earlier this month that inmate work crews violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Peter Fels, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the $85,000 will be divided among the six plaintiffs.

“We’re very pleased for our clients,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

But more importantly, Fels said, is a promise by the councilors to recommend a policy that will set stricter limits for when work crews can remove homeless people’s belongings.

“One of the main things all of them wanted to have the policy changed, and that was negotiated and agreed to by the county,” Fels said. “The settlement amount does compensate the individual clients, but … there are lots of people who were affected by the old policy and are not compensated.”

A draft sample version of that policy requires that work crews give 48 hours’ notice to residents, instructing them to collect their belongings or else they will be considered abandoned and will be removed.

After 72 hours, the draft policy says, work crews will be able to remove that property. Any containers labeled with the person’s name — like backpacks or bins — or wallets and cellphones will be taken to the Friends of the Carpenter center at 1600 W. 20th St. so they can be collected later.

A previous policy allowed work crews to clean abandoned camps immediately or else give residents an hour’s notice. That didn’t always happen, however, with some plaintiffs reporting they’d only briefly left their belongings and returned to find work crews throwing them out.

That policy will need to go to the Clark County District Court presiding judge for final approval before it takes effect.

“A lot of people were harmed,” Fels said. “We’re hoping the county will be more humane in its treatment, and this will help them think about what they’re doing in the future.”

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