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SLO files motion to dismiss homeless mistreatment lawsuit

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The city of San Luis Obispo filed a motion in federal court to dismiss a lawsuit that claims it criminalizes its homeless community. Five transient residents of SLO and the nonprofit Hope's Village sued the city earlier this year.

"The city's past and ongoing treatment of unhoused individuals threatened and continues to threaten their health, personal autonomy, financial stability, ability to find and continue employment, and access to services and medical attention," the Sept. 17 lawsuit stated.

RESOURCE SHORTAGE The lawsuit against SLO cites that the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center couldn't provide ample support to the city's unsheltered people because of its limited number of beds. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPSLO
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Capslo
  • RESOURCE SHORTAGE The lawsuit against SLO cites that the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center couldn't provide ample support to the city's unsheltered people because of its limited number of beds.

Filed on Dec. 8, the motion to dismiss cited several reasons why the argument doesn't stand. City Attorney Christine Dietrick told New Times that the city doesn't have the ability to contest the facts as pleaded in the lawsuit.

"This is purely a motion on the law. Even if you accept everything they say as true, they have failed to meet the legal threshold to state a claim against the city," she said.

One of the complaints levied was that the city seized and destroyed the personal property of homeless individuals, violating the Fourth Amendment in the process. Dietrick's motion to dismiss called these "threadbare allegations," and said that the seizure wasn't "unreasonable."

"The city always gives ample notice in advance of any cleanup process to provide people with an opportunity to either remove their property or identify property that they need to have stored, and the city has a process to store that. There are no allegations that the city didn't follow that procedure," Dietrick said.

Further, the call to dissolve the lawsuit also asks to dismiss Hope's Village as a plaintiff. The nonprofit detailed in the document that it had to use critical resources to reduce the harm that SLO caused to the homeless community. Dietrick said that Hope's Village itself wasn't harmed by the city's conduct that it deemed unlawful.

Previous New Times reporting noted that homelessness in SLO County ballooned by 22 percent since 2016, making it the third-highest region in the nation for people living outdoors in suburban areas.

Another lawsuit claim was that SLO's only year-round shelter, the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, couldn't effectively provide services to its 326-strong unsheltered population. It added that at maximum capacity, 40 Prado could only house 124 people, and its bed capacity shrunk to 70 during the height of the pandemic. Dietrick countered that this argument generalized the homeless community, and said it was the fundamental flaw of the lawsuit.

"Taking the raw number of available beds and service locations and comparing it to homeless counts misses the connection about the number of people who are receptive to services and the services offered," she said. "The reality is, like any population, the homeless population isn't homogenous. There are really individualized reasons why people find themselves in that circumstance. How many of those folks have been offered services and have indicated that they're not interested in the services that the city and county have to offer?"

The California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) represents the lawsuit's plaintiffs, and Directing Attorney Frank Kopcinski told New Times that he couldn't comment on the case.

Dietrick said her team was in touch with CRLA, and wants all agencies to work together to address gaps in services to the homeless.

"We recognize that this is a huge problem," she said. "We're going to continue to enforce our laws by balancing compassion and equity for unhoused individuals with accountability for conduct that's harmful to our community." Δ

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