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Judge denies motion to dismiss lawsuit accusing SLO City of violating rights of the homeless

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Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 14:47:41-05

A federal judge this week denied a motion by the City of San Luis Obispo to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges unconstitutional treatment of the homeless.

The lawsuit, filed by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) on behalf of Hope's Village SLO and several homeless individuals, claims that the city unlawfully broke up homeless encampments during the pandemic and illegally seized and destroyed homeless people's property, ultimately violating their constitutional rights.

City officials deny the lawsuit's claim that the city's ordinances criminalize homelessness and say the lawsuit aims to prevent the city from enforcing health, safety, and environmental protection ordinances in its public spaces.

The city argued in its motion to dismiss that Hope's Village lacked standing to bring forward a lawsuit, but the judge rejected that claim and found the plaintiff's allegations were sufficient for the case to move forward.

"We have tried for 10 years to get more help for our homeless people who have little or no income or chance of getting housing. We have tried to persuade the City to follow the law. Someone has to break the chain. Let it be us," Becky Jorgeson, director of Hope's Village SLO, said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The city has until February 22, 2022, to file a response to the lawsuit.

The City of San Luis Obispo issued the following statement on Thursday in response to the judge's ruling:

The City of San Luis Obispo’s goal is to prevent homelessness and reduce chronic homelessness. To do that, we all need to work together as a community.

We had hoped a recent lawsuit against the City would be dismissed [] at an early stage so that resources can be fully dedicated to delivering solutions, rather than defending our community against legal action. Instead, the Court denied the City’s motion for dismissal and has decided that the case can move forward. The City remains confident that as we proceed the facts will support our compliance with the law and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to assisting individuals who are willing and ready to take an active role in accessing shelter and other critical services.

This lawsuit does not represent everyone experiencing homelessness within our City and is especially disheartening because the City is doing more now than ever before to prevent and reduce chronic homelessness. Through the continued outreach of our Community Action Team in coordination with our Continuum of Care partners, we are actively helping many local unsheltered community members enroll in benefits programs, seek case management, and access shelter or housing.

It is not an act of compassion to enable unsafe living conditions outdoors in public spaces in a community where services and shelter are available. We look forward to resolving this distracting lawsuit and remain fully open to working with any and all willing partners toward solutions.