Two San Diego Police officers watch as two residents gather up their belongings during a homeless camp clean-up on Sept. 28, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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.

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...

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  1. This piece is well-written and packed with valuable information. I will definitely refer back to it whenever I need clarification on this topic.

  2. Great. So now in order to clean unsanitary, illegal camps the city has to provide people with an eviction notice and offer a place for storage? If it weren't for these homeless advocates, we'd have solved homelessness by now. Normal people move when a location becomes too expensive. That is why CA has negative, net migration stats. It'd be cheaper for the city and the county to offer bus tickets and a voucher for 2-3 months' rent to a more affordable city or town than it would be to pay the lawyers to fight these endless, frivolous lawsuits.

    1. The story is about the police taking the homeless citizens personal belongings. No one has the right to steal from anyone else right? Well that’s what they are doing, simply put. I have seen with my own eyes the police truck hall away homeless citizens belongings and take them straight to the dump (waste management). That is against our own city laws. Don’t get me wrong I hate the trash and the problems homelessness brings but just sweeping it under the rug so to speak is not the solution. These are human beings like you and me and they have rights where anyone else likes that or not, they have the right to have things. That’s what this is basically about.

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