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Federal Court Approves Landmark Settlement to End City of Pomona's Unlawful Seizure of Essential Property of Homeless Residents

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AUG. 23, 2016 --Yesterday, a federal court approved a settlement between the City of Pomona and homeless residents, pursuant to which the City will implement a game-changing program to help break the cycle of homelessness for its nearly 700 residents without homes. 

The settlement and court order, signed by Hon. Manuel L. Real, grew out of litigation brought by Public Counsel and Munger, Tolles and Olson LLP on March 18, 2016, on behalf of 15 Pomona homeless residents and a local church. The complaint alleged that the City engaged in the unlawful, unconstitutional, and inhumane practice of summarily seizing and destroying the personal possessions of its homeless residents-including medications, vital documents and irreplaceable keepsakes. After the City agreed in April to halt the unlawful seizures on a temporary basis until the case was resolved, the parties sought to establish a program that would dramatically change how the City treats its homeless residents. 

"With the courage of our clients, this case confronted daunting human tragedies and transformed them into a new, more humane way for cities to engage with their residents experiencing homelessness," said Christina Giorgio, staff attorney of Public Counsel's Community Development Project. "After months of negotiations, we have a court-approved settlement that can serve as a model for other cities struggling to respect the rights of their homeless residents while fulfilling their mandate to keep public spaces accessible to all." 

The foundation of the agreed-upon protocol is the City's commitment to install and operate a storage facility that will offer 388 lockers to be used by homeless residents to keep their property safe, secure, and accessible. Residents experiencing homelessness will be able to keep with them personal items that could fit into a 60-gallon container-property the settlement defines as "attended property". If homeless residents need more space, they may store another 60-gallon container's worth of personal property in one of the storage lockers. The City will also prioritize staffing the storage center with residents experiencing homelessness. 

"This solution forges a significant partnership between the City of Pomona and its homeless residents," said John B. Major of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. "It's based on respect for property rights and allows the city to better manage public spaces as all parties work together to get unsheltered residents into permanent housing."

Faced with the legal action taken by Public Counsel and Munger, Tolles and Olson on March 18, the Pomona City Council unanimously voted in April to temporarily halt the City's unconstitutional and unlawful practice of seizing and destroying the personal possessions of its homeless residents. The settlement approved by the Court yesterday built on that temporary agreement and requires the City to: 

  • Honor homeless residents' right to have 60 gallons of attended property, which excludes a bike, wheel chair, walker and recyclables;
  • Fabricate and make available 388 60-gallon storage lockers free of charge for homeless residents to store personal property;
  • Leave notice of where individuals can retrieve property collected and stored by the City because the property was left unattended;
  • Store all property collected under any circumstance for 90 days free of charge;
  • Provide semiannual reports on the state of it efforts to end homelessness to plaintiffs' counsel; and
  • Not enforce its anti-camping and unauthorized-areas-to-sleep ordinances until the City has enough shelter beds, housing options, or campgrounds sufficient to safely accommodate its homeless population.

         "The fact that Public Counsel and Munger, Tolles and Olson took on this litigation gave hope to our homeless residents who so often feel voiceless. This court-approved settlement is a major step forward in addressing their needs and honoring their rights," said Pastor Rex Wolins of plaintiff North Towne Christian Church, which provides meals, blankets, and clothing to Pomona residents experiencing homelessness.  

"We sued to stop the City from taking and destroying our precious and necessary property, but it has grown into something so much bigger," said plaintiff and homeless resident Kelley Wilcox.  "With the locker program and the clear rules protecting our rights, the City has agreed to work with us to tackle homelessness, get people into homes, and keep our City beautiful."  

 

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