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County found liable for violating homeless campers’ civil rights

in: Featured, News


CLARK COUNTY — Clark County leaders are expected to approve a $250,000 settlement agreement this week as restitution for violating homeless campers’ civil rights.

CCToday 28 Sep 16 17

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.

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A response to a blog

On Feb 26, The Columbian posted the blog, ‘The urinating on chairs was bad enough’.  It focused on the Clark County council's revisiting of a plan to make the Public Service Center at 1300 Franklin Street a limited-use facility.  They understand the reason they are doing this is to restrict the homeless in the area from using the needed water and bathroom facilities because they waited until there was an official day center in the city to revisit this plan.  But the problem with that is, the day center is a LONG WALK (20 minutes or more) if you have to use the bathroom while you are in the area of the service center and even feels longer when you "have to go", and when you are walking in the rain with a backpack heavy with your worldly possessions.

This article said the facility has had issues with "some individuals", but yet they are looking to restrict everyone instead of just addressing the problem individuals. They say it is to "give teeth to dealing with troublemakers", however that can most likely be read as "people they deem as potential troublemakers". Now we ask, "how will that clarification be made between a real troublemaker and someone just needing to use the facilities appropriately?" Sadly, more than likely it will be made by "how you are dressed" and "if they look homeless". The facility personnel complains and worries about urine smell on the furniture. Every public place has this problem over time. They are obviously using that statement as an "ick factor" to bring about sympathy from people they are hoping to slide this rule change by. We ask, are they assuming that the smell on furniture comes only from a homeless person, or will they apply that assumption of smell to every 40+ year old woman or man with a bladder control problem? Will they ask / inspect older people if they are wearing their Depends properly? Will they ask disabled persons if they have spina bifida or other physical ailments to not use the chairs? Will they ask parents with children in diapers to not sit on furniture and only stand in the wait area, or not enter all together since their diapers might leak on a chair? -- If they are complaining about furniture being used and smelling, then all those kinds of people an situations need to also be taken into consideration, or this is a unfair burden being put on our county's Unhoused Residents.

In my opinion, I doubt this rule change is anything but one more way to separate the Unhoused from the Housed and to keep the Unhoused Residents of our community from using public facilities such as clean water fountains and bathrooms.   "We maintain a public water fountain outside the building", they might say about the water... but do you see the picture we have included here?  THIS is the condition of the water fountain outside of the building.  It is unacceptable. Clean water and bathrooms are HUMAN RIGHTS.  Clark County and the Public Service building staff needs to be sure they are attending to the needs of EVERYONE, the Unhoused as well as the Housed residents, using this PUBLIC FACILITY.




Clark County seeks applicants for Community Action Advisory Board

Vancouver, WA – The Acting County Manager is seeking applicants for an opening on the Community Action Advisory Board (CAAB). The opening is for district one, roughly north of 78th Street between Interstate 5 and Lakeshore Avenue and north of 99th Street east of I-5.

The term is three years, starting Jan. 1. Applicants may not be county staff or board members of agencies receiving funds administered by the CAAB.

The nine member CAAB board makes recommendations regarding local government funding for basic and essential housing, health, and safety needs. The board also works to fund programs that remove obstacles to self-sufficiency for low-income communities, families and individuals.

Clark County encourages people with diverse cultural backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to apply.

Applicants must submit an application and resume to Rebecca Royce, Clark County Community Services, P.O. Box 5000, Vancouver, WA 98666-5000 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The application can be found on the Clark County Community Action Advisory Board webpage or requested from Rebecca Royce. Deadline is Friday, Nov. 20.