Washington Court of Appeals rules on case involving homeless man arrested in Vancouver
A homeless man staying in a makeshift shelter had an expectation of privacy under the Washington state Constitution — just like people in traditional homes — when police peeked inside his dwelling. That’s the finding of a Washington Court of Appeals opinion that was published in part Tuesday and could have broader implications on privacy rights for the homeless.
The decision affirms a Clark County Superior Court judge’s 2015 ruling that Vancouver police officers violated William R. Pippin’s privacy rights when they looked inside his tarp, despite him being camped illegally in downtown Vancouver.
Pippin was subsequently charged with methamphetamine possession, but his case was dismissed after Judge Scott Collier granted the defense’s motion to suppress the drug as evidence, because Pippin’s privacy rights were violated.
However, the appeals court also ruled that Pippin’s case should be remanded to Superior Court after reversing part of Collier’s ruling. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the appeals court found that Collier used the incorrect legal standard for determining whether exigent circumstances of officer safety justified them looking inside Pippin’s dwelling without a warrant.
Pippin was arrested Nov. 2, 2015, and charged with methamphetamine possession after the officers contacted him about camping in public past the lawful time. Officers had pulled back his tarp entrance to look inside when he didn’t come out right away and heard him rustling around inside. In doing so, they saw some packaged methamphetamine.
Pippin’s defense attorney, Chris Ramsay, argued that although his client was camping illegally, officers still violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they looked inside his dwelling.
Tuesday’s decision does not analyze the Fourth Amendment, which looks at whether an individual’s expectation of privacy is reasonable. The appeals court instead analyzed the state’s constitution on privacy protection.
Ramsay said Pippin is still homeless, and if he’s called to court later, Ramsay has no idea how to reach him.
‘You have rights’
Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which weighed in on the case, said the organization is “pleased that the court agreed that the constitution applies to everyone.
“It doesn’t matter whether your home is a tarp and a couple of poles or a huge mansion, you have constitutional rights,” he said.
A pair of attorneys with the ACLU submitted an amicus brief last year addressing the constitutionality of entering and searching someone’s makeshift shelter, as well as the case’s impact on privacy rights for people experiencing homelessness. Seattle University School of Law’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, the Seattle-based publication Real Change, and the Vancouver-based homeless advocacy group Outsiders Inn were also named in the brief.
Adam Kravitz of Outsiders Inn was in downtown Vancouver the day police were contacting people camping around Share House, a men’s homeless shelter. Kravitz’s organization later became involved in another lawsuit about seizing homeless people’s personal property. Kravitz said he, too, is pleased to hear that the issue of privacy rights for homeless people is being understood and analyzed.
“This is very good news,” he said. “I think we’re finally making some headway on a really important issue.”
He noted that the decision comes at a time when the nights are getting colder and hundreds of people on the streets are going to need shelter.
“I believe that Washington state can be the leaders on changing homelessness rights,” Kravitz said. “All citizens have rights and we need to help them.”
Adam Gershowitz, a professor at Virginia’s William & Mary Law School, called the issue of privacy protection for the homeless “unchartered territory.”
“I applaud the idea that (the Washington Court of Appeals) found (privacy protection) under the state constitution,” Gershowitz said, adding that “state courts are free to take a more expansive interpretation under their state constitution.”
Vancouver Community Library wants to show their creativity, efforts to contribute
By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: April 3, 2017, 6:02 AM
One of Jonathon David Turner’s wood-burning projects features cubes within cubes — the sort of art piece you have to readjust your eyes to understand. It sits in a glass pedestal on the downtown library’s first-floor atrium.
“It’s fun to mess with people’s heads,” quipped Turner, 31. “I would call it isometric optical illusions because you can look at the image at six different angles and see something different in each different angle. I try to actually accommodate each angle.”
He likes the mind-boggling works of M.C. Escher. If you want to talk to Turner about his artwork, he’s likely hanging out on the fourth floor of the library. He’s an artist in residence of sorts, spending days in the library and nights on Vancouver’s streets. He said he’s been homeless since 2009.
Homeless not Hopeless is the name of a new art show at the Vancouver Community Library featuring artwork done by local people who’ve experienced homelessness.
“The idea was to find a way to highlight the homeless population in a positive way,” said Ruth Shafer, program services manager at the library. “A lot of them really are being productive, creative, trying to contribute, and this is one way they can contribute.”
It’s the first time the library has attempted an art show like this, and it’s also the first exhibit in what’s called The Gray Space; people can find artwork throughout the first, fourth and fifth floors. It differs from the more formal gallery that people flock to for First Friday art receptions in the Columbia Room by the library entrance. Library patrons were clamoring for more art, and The Gray Space is what resulted. A series of hanging systems were installed along the concrete walls for displaying two-dimensional works.
“If you have a creative sort of side to you, no matter what your circumstance are you do it, or it comes out or you find a way to express it,” said David Gambale, senior library assistant.
Some of the pieces were hard to display, he said, such as a painting done on a T-shirt. Aurora Gallery donated matting services so the two-dimensional pieces could be hung on the walls.
The art show was the idea of Mandi Vee, who used to be homeless and spent much of her time creating art in the library. Although it took months to come to fruition, she’s looking forward to speaking at the show’s art reception Tuesday. She has several pieces in the library: stone jewelry, a crocheted baby blanket, drawings and an alabaster sculpture.
“That’s one of my favorite pieces. It’s still not done,” she said.
Some of her works speak more directly to homelessness, such as a beaded bracelet that says ‘being homeless should not be a crime’ and a poster with a series of questions for people to consider before judging someone who appears to be homeless. Does this person have a family they can rely on for help? Does this person have access to good, nutritional food? Is this person disabled?
St. Paul Lutheran Church holds annual service on first day of winter to honor dead
By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: December 21, 2016, 9:26 PM
When people gathered on the steps in front of St. Paul Lutheran Church on Wednesday night, it was foggy and 33 degrees. A few dozen people were there to honor those who have died while homeless.
Memorials are held in cities around the country on Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. It’s a chance to memorialize people who maybe haven’t been properly memorialized and give thanks for their time on earth, said Tom Iberle, who heads the Friends of the Carpenter.
It was fitting that the memorial happened at St. Paul in Vancouver, which provides overnight shelter for men during the winter months. Some clients joined in the memorial before going inside to stay the night.
Iberle read off a list of 10 people with local connections who died while homeless this year. The list included the newborn daughter of a homeless couple.
There wasn’t a lot of information about the deceased — one person’s name wasn’t available, and for others their date of death was hazy — but that speaks to what happens when a person dies while homeless. It can be difficult to track them, document their deaths properly and recognize them.
One of the deceased was a man who frequented the Friends of the Carpenter in west Vancouver. Donald Prickett Jr. died in October in Reedsport, Ore., but was homeless for a while in Vancouver. He had many health problems and eventually reconciled with family in Reedsport, Iberle said. While he was going to the Friends of the Carpenter and doing woodworking projects, Prickett mastered scroll-saw techniques.
“I got to know Donald very well when he lived here in Vancouver,” Iberle said. “He turned out amazing works of art while living out of the back of his truck.”
The list of those who have died is longer than Adam Kravitz can remember from past homeless memorials.
“That should scare us. That should really scare us,” he said.
At previous memorials, Kravitz said, he knew the deceased because he knew them from when he was homeless. At Wednesday’s memorial, he knew the deceased because he tried to work with them through his outreach organization Outsiders Inn.
“It utterly amazes me that we expect people to burrow out of homelessness. It is literally like climbing a mountain that keeps going and going,” Kravitz said.
Vancouver has come a long way in recognizing and addressing homelessness, he said, but it still has a lot to work on in the coming year. Thousands of people in the community help out, and he encouraged people to continue doing good work.
“I have seen love go to the streets more than ever in Vancouver,” he said. “I want to continue that. I want to pump that up. I want you guys to be angry. I want this to be the last memorial.”
Church received threat of lawsuit; backers vow to find new location
By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: December 16, 2015, 7:21 PM
A Vancouver church that had agreed to host a village of 40 tiny houses for the homeless has pulled out of the project, leaving organizers searching for a new location.
Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene received a threat of a lawsuit, the church said on its Facebook page, adding, “We do not wish to fight with our neighbors, so we made the painful decision to withdraw from the project.”
The church’s pastor, David Edwards, previously said the Council for the Homeless and its partners could build a temporary, emergency village for 50 homeless people this winter in an empty field behind the church at 8100 E. Mill Plain Blvd., which is next to the Garrison Square shopping center. Bordered by 82nd Avenue, which dead-ends at an apartment complex, the Safe Harbor church site was chosen because it’s close to a hospital, a bus line and shopping.
Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless, said he received the news Wednesday morning.
All the partners involved are still “100 percent committed to making this happen,” Silver said.
CLARK COUNTY — Clark County leaders are expected to approve a $250,000 settlement agreement this week as restitution for violating homeless campers’ civil rights.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Tacoma found Clark County liable for violating the constitutional rights of unhoused citizens when county work crews cleared homeless camps, seizing and disposing of the homeless campers’ personal property.
According to the suit, brought on behalf of eight different homeless plaintiffs, county work crews often seized personal belongings — including clothing, tents, sleeping bags, photographs, driver’s licenses, shoes, computers, food, medication, prescription glasses and toiletries — with little to no notice, and then disposed of the items immediately, giving homeless campers no chance to retrieve their belongings.
“It was a clear violation of the law,” says Vancouver attorney Peter Fels of the county’s seizure practices. Fels, along with his co-counsel, Moloy Good, a member of the Portland Human Rights Commission, represented the eight plaintiffs in their case against the county.
On Sept. 16, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan agreed that the county had violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, ruling that the county’s “immediate destruction of the property (rather than holding it for possible return) made the seizure unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Bryan also dismissed the county’s assertion that the work crews were justified in removing and destroying the personal property because campers had violated the county’s illegal camping ordinances.
Quoting a similar case out of Los Angeles that went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest court in the nation before the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Bryan ruled that that violation of an ordinance (in this case the illegal camping ordinance) does not nullify a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect citizens from illegal search and seizures of private property.
County must pay for belongings lost in clearing encampments
By GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press
Published: September 16, 2016, 1:25 PM
TACOMA — A federal judge in Tacoma has found Clark County liable for seizing the residents’ belongings when it cleared out homeless encampments.
In a ruling Friday, Judge Robert Bryan said the county’s inmate work crews violated the constitutional rights of at least a half-dozen homeless residents by throwing out their tents, stoves, medication, documents and photographs during sweeps from 2012 to 2014. A trial is set for Oct. 3 to determine how much the county must pay in damages, but settlement talks are also planned.
“The only evidence in the record is that the county’s employees took all unattended property and then immediately destroyed the property, regardless of whether the property was abandoned,” the judge wrote.
He declined to immediately rule on the merits of claims by two other campers, saying it wasn’t clear who took their property.
One hour’s notice
In March 2012, the Clark County Department of Corrections adopted a policy that work crews should clean up camps immediately if they’d been abandoned. If they hadn’t been abandoned, it said, the workers were to give one hour’s notice that the residents had to vacate the area and take their belongings with them.
In practice, the crews often didn’t determine whether the property had been abandoned. One crew supervisor testified in a deposition that if his workers complained that a campsite appeared to be recently occupied, he ordered them to clean up, anyway.
A lawyer for the county did not immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.
Some campers left to eat meals at a local shelter, then returned to find the work crews seizing their property and refusing to give it back. Among the items taken were dentures, a photograph of a deceased child, and legal documents such as Social Security cards and disability insurance papers.
A homeless resident, Terry Ellis, left a backpack at a bus stop while he offered to help a woman whose car had broken down nearby. Even though Ellis was within sight when the work crew arrived, the crew took it, ignoring his explanation for why he left it there, Ellis said in court filings.
Inside the backpack were new clothes he had been given so he could apply for a job, he said.
Another plaintiff and formerly homeless man, Adam Kravitz, had briefly left his bags by the Columbia River in 2012 and returned to find work crews taking them away. Kravitz and the group he was with asked the men to leave, but they were threatened with arrest, court documents show. Kravitz did not protest any further from there, he said.
Kravitz recently launched a nonprofit called Outsiders Inn to advocate for Clark County’s homeless community, and said it was incidents like these that spurred him to action. Friday’s ruling was “a big win,” he said.
“I’m very glad that they acknowledged that they were in the wrong,” he said. “I really hope, moving forward, that the policies can be strengthened and adhered to even better.”
Group, which meets once a month, gives homeless a voice
By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: March 30, 2016, 6:05 AM
There are neighborhood associations for most every area in Clark County, but what about people without an address?
The new Unhoused Residents Association looks to empower homeless people in Clark County by making them an officially recognized group that can advocate on its own behalf. In February, the association began holding monthly town hall meetings at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in west Vancouver.
Outsiders Inn, a homeless advocacy group, formed the association; meetings are facilitated by founder Adam Kravitz. He said he is a more effective advocate when he hears the most relevant, current concerns from people who are living on the streets.
“That’s why we do this. Everybody gets a voice, and everybody gets to be heard,” he said. “The magic of these meetings is bringing people together and the collaboration that’s going to happen.”
Kravitz is a new board member at Share, which operates shelters in Clark County, so he is able to offer institutional knowledge and relay what’s happening at the nonprofit organization to the Unhoused Residents Association members. Ren Autrey, also of Outsiders Inn, keeps minutes during the meetings.
Fliers for the association read: “No decisions about us, without us!”
Judi Bailey, neighborhoods program manager at the city of Vancouver, said neighborhood associations are geographically defined and are officially recognized by city ordinance. That means that those without an address cannot form a neighborhood association. The Unhoused Residents Association would be considered a sort of stakeholder group, she said, similar to Bike Clark County or the Clark County Rental Association.
“It’s more a group that’s connected by interest than geographical location,” Bailey said.
K.C. Vee, who lives out of his van with his wife, attended the group’s second meeting on March 10. The 40-year-old said he isn’t sure if politicians will listen to him about his concerns but they would be more apt to listen to a reputable organization, whether it’s Outsiders Inn or the Unhoused Residents Association. He is concerned about the negative perception of the homeless, he added.
“This isn’t just a bunch of people sitting around whining about being homeless,” Vee said. “We want to change our circumstance.”
Danny Hessick said he heard about the meetings at Friends of the Carpenter and a volunteer with the nonprofit group drove him to the meeting at St. Luke’s. The 47-year-old said he likes that the gatherings give him a chance to let other people know what he is feeling.
Also in attendance were representatives from agencies that assist the homeless, including 211Info, the Arnada Abbey, Hands of Favor and His Presents.
Many topics were covered at the two-hour meeting on March 10.