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A federal lawsuit filed earlier this week accuses the county, multiple cities and two state agencies of sweeping East County homeless camps without proper notice, taking unsheltered residents’ property and forcing them to move elsewhere without offering other options.

Editorial note: This image was created by Miriam Raftery. It was not created by Voice of San Diego.
June 16, 2024 (San Diego) -- A federal lawsuit filed this week accuses the county, multiple cities and two state agencies of sweeping East County homeless camps without proper notice, taking unsheltered residents’ property and forcing them to move elsewhere without offering other options.
The proposed class action filed by nonprofit Hope for the Homeless Lakeside and 16 homeless plaintiffs urges the U.S. District Court to order the county, cities of Santee and San Diego, Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to halt these practices and create safe places for unhoused residents to sleep and store their belongings.

Among the allegations in the suit: Sheriff’s deputies, Santee city employees and others tossed one woman’s dentures, photos of her children and her deceased father’s ring during a sweep along the San Diego River in Santee last July. A woman rushing to clean up her belongings accidentally urinated on herself during a morning camp clean-up in Lakeside after Caltrans workers and sheriff’s deputies refused to allow her to use the port-a-potty they brought with them. A woman staying near the former Santee Drive-In Theatre looked on as sheriff’s deputies threw away the walker she relied on to get around plus her husband and son’s cremated ashes.

Editorial note: This image was created by Teresa Rosiak. It was not created by Voice of San Diego.
The suit filed Monday claims these practices amount to cruel and unusual punishment and violate due process and equal protection rights, among other violations. Spokespeople for the county and its sheriff’s department, the cities of Santee and San Diego (which owns some East County properties), Caltrans and Highway Patrol declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Sheriff’s department spokesperson Kimberly King did note in a statement, however, that the department’s Homeless Assistance Resource Team last year housed 475 unsheltered people, performed 261 camp clean-ups and has worked to bolster opportunities for homeless San Diegans to access services.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Blanche E. Maine, Matthew R. Miller and Scott Dreher, who years ago negotiated a legal settlement mandating that the city of San Diego provide notice before clearing homeless camps and offer storage spaces.
Dreher said he hopes the suit will compel the county, cities and state agencies to work with the attorneys on potential solutions.
“We don’t need to fight this out,” Dreher said. “Let’s sit down and talk.”
Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's behavioral health crisis and more. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or (619) 325-0528. Follow her on Twitter @LisaHalverstadt. This story was first published by Voice of San Diego. Sign up for VOSD’s newsletters here.


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Follow the money.

There's money to be gained by clearing unfortunate people from where they live. The US does it world-wide with bombing attacks, whereas locally they displace people with clearing crews. . .from The Guardian in April: "In recent years, California has approved more than $700m of funding for camp clearance, part of its strategy for grappling with a growing unsheltered homeless population of 123,000, according to a recent count.. .The records show that firms vying for contracts to sweep encampments in California include mid-size construction companies that also do home renovations, as well as large environmental services firms that specialize in cleaning up hazardous waste and responding to public emergencies. The company Ocean Blue, for instance, says on its website it cleared out more than 300 encampments in a year in southern California. “Because of our specialty in handling hazardous wastes – bio hazardous (i.e. feces, urine, vomit, needles), oils, acids, aerosols – we now perform homeless encampment cleanups for some of the largest government agencies in Southern California,” it says."

Unsheltered people

Pushing them from one location to another doesn't solve the homeless issue. Yes, the areas get cleaned up of debris, then a new campsite is setup elsewhere. Billions of taxpayer dollars spent on what the authorities blindly think is some type of solution to end homelessness just in California alone. When these "homeless sweeps" are performed, I have noticed a substantial increase in people setting up sleeping areas throughout downtown El Cajon, and they are there even during the day. The odor and visual of human urine and excrement is very noticeable in many areas. Trash left behind has become normal. Used clothing, paper, empty alcohol bottles, blankets, and random odds and ends. A viable, cost effective, long term solution must be created for those experiencing homelessness, not just shuffling people around like pieces on a chess board. A tactic that clearly does not work. Good intentions maybe, yet doing the same thing repeatedly with little positive result makes no sense to me. Don't misunderstand my words, I dislike dealing with the trash, human waste, groups of homeless men staring at me and so forth when I walk past as if they want to rob me or something, because it's concerning. Unleashed dogs are a huge concern as well. I certainly don't want to be bitten or mauled by one. The business owners must be very frustrated having to clean up after them, as is the city spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to solve this issue in various ways - cleanups, shelters, etc. Homeless people are a diverse group. Seniors, veterans, children, women, men, parolees, wanted felons... Quite a few abuse drugs and or alcohol due to addictions. So what is the solution ? Anyone have humane thoughts or ideas ?