SLO seizes homeless property days after LA loses legal bid

August 12, 2013
Strollers city staff paid to have taken from a campsite to the dump.

Strollers city staff paid to have taken from a campsite to the dump.


San Luis Obispo calls the tents, bikes and personal belongings of homeless people “found property.” Workers for the company that gets $1,600 a day to seize and send the property to the landfill call it “homeless trash.”

The people whose belongings are taken call it “everything” – from items for their young children to the tents they sleep in, clothing, toiletries and even their mail.

San Luis Obispo continues to seize the property of homeless people even though courts have ruled against other California cities over the taking and destruction of that personal property.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept an appeal from Los Angeles over a district court injunction ordering the city to stop taking and destroying the property of homeless people.

The district court issued the order as part of a lawsuit filed by eight homeless people in Los Angeles over the seizure and destruction of their property. The homeless plaintiffs argued that their 4th Amendment rights had been violated when the city took the property.

It wasn’t the first time Los Angeles faced legal action over such seizures. The city has been faced with at least three other suits over unconstitutional seizures since the 1980s.

Los Angeles is not the only city to face legal action over such practices. In 2006, homeless plaintiffs sued Fresno for bulldozing their encampments. A U.S. district court ruled that the city’s actions violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Fresno paid $2.35 million to settle the case.

San Luis Obispo Assistant City Manager Michael Codron says the city is committed to complying with personal property laws.

“It is not the city’s policy to dispose of any found personal property or possessions except in accordance with legal requirements,” Codron wrote in an email.

On June 27, three days after the Supreme Court refused to accept the Los Angeles appeal, workers for Eco Solutions targeted a homeless encampment under the Marsh Street Bridge. Eco Solutions is the company that receives approximately $1,600 for its cleanup days aimed at the homeless.

The workers hauled away baby blankets and formula. Workers also confiscated and disposed of two baby strollers from the encampment. A CalCoastNews reporter witnessed the removal of the strollers.

The strollers appeared to be in good condition, but the crew hauled them to the Cold Canyon Landfill.

Eco Solutions employees said that if campers are present when crews arrive for an encampment cleanup, the crews tell those living in the camps to grab whatever they can quickly carry away. If no one is at the camp, as is often the case when the crews arrive, they load everything in a truck and haul it off to the landfill.

“We are just cleaning up homeless trash,” said an Eco Solutions employee who did not want to provide his name.

One homeless man told CalCoastNews that he returned to his campsite one day to find that a cleanup crew confiscated all of his belongings, including his mail.

Another man, Danny Braninburg, said in 2011, a crew confiscated all the belongings from a camp in which he lived for two years. At any given time, five to 30 other homeless individuals lived in the creek side camp behind the San Luis Obispo Elks Lodge. The belongings confiscated included tents, bicycles, an electric generator and CD players.

“It was my house,” Braninburg said. “I was going through surgery. I couldn’t move.”

Braninburg said the crew also disposed of the carpet he laid that stretched from a nearby trail to his home.

“There was nothing left there but dirt,” he said.

After losing his campsite, Braninburg tried living in his vehicle, but he received 17 illegal lodging tickets from the city, he said.

Another homeless San Luis Obispo resident, Billy Huerta, lost his belongings to a sweep under the bridge on Prado Road in 2012. Huerta returned to his campsite to find his clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries and the rest of his belongings missing.

“They took everything,” Huerta said. “You gotta start all over again.”

Other homeless individuals who have lost belongings to creek cleanups fear they will endure retaliation for sharing their experiences with the media.

A number of cities, including Los Angeles have used property seizures to deal with homeless people. As part of a downtown cleanup campaign, Los Angeles sanitation workers and police took and trashed property left temporarily by residents in the primarily homeless community of Skid Row. Much of the property taken came from shopping carts, cardboard boxes and mobile shelters built by charity groups for the homeless. The property had been left unattended by the homeless while getting meals, using restrooms, filling water jugs or receiving services from social services programs.

In 2011, eight homeless people sued Los Angeles for confiscating their property. A federal district court issued an injunction against city seizure of homeless property left unattended. The district court prohibited Los Angeles from confiscating homeless individuals’ possessions unless they posed immediate threats to public health or if they were evidence of a crime.

The 9th Circuit said that the property of the homeless people could not be taken just because they broke a Los Angeles ordinance against leaving property on the sidewalk.

“Violation of a City ordinance does not vitiate the Fourth Amendment’s protection of one’s property. Were it otherwise, the government could seize and destroy any illegally parked car or unlawfully unattended dog without implicating the Fourth Amendment,” the panel wrote in its decision to uphold the district court order.

Los Angeles also had to comply with rules that give the homeless notice that work crews would be in the area, so the homeless could ensure that no one took their possessions. That notice has to give the homeless an opportunity to be heard before their property is taken, the district court said. Los Angeles also had to follow existing rules to give the homeless 90 days to retrieve their belongings that were improperly taken.

Prior to encampment cleanups, San Luis Obispo city employees often provide warnings to those inhabiting the camps, city and Eco Solution staff said. Some homeless individuals, however, contend the crews have torn down their camps and confiscated their belongings without providing any advance notice.

Parks and Recreation staff and employees of Eco Solutions told CalCoastNews it is city policy to provide camp inhabitants one week’s notice of an upcoming cleanup, but that not everyone living in the camps receives the warnings.

Camping in city creeks and open spaces is illegal in San Luis Obispo, as is sleeping at night in vehicles. Many homeless individuals, however, risk tickets, fines and jail time by sleeping in or by creek beds, commonly under bridges.

San Luis Obispo pays Eco to tear down camps citywide and haul off belongings to the dump. Camps Eco Solutions crews dispose of include those under the Marsh Street, Madonna Road and Prado Road bridges. In the months of February through June 2013, Eco Solutions received contracts for four encampment cleanup days, according to city financial statements.

While San Luis Obispo has not faced a lawsuit for confiscation of property belonging to the homeless, the city did lose a lawsuit last year over its practice of ticketing people sleeping in their cars.




  1. leatherpink says:

    This is a common problem for our properties, when you have people camping for weeks in your commercial properties, the homeless play sneaky and pretend to stay in places they think no one sees which they bring over everything. I have hauled more stuff to the dumpster than ever before considering we never had this problem 4 years ago, thanks to Oprah Winfrey happiest place to live back in 2011, she basically made an announcement for the homeless to come to San Luis Obispo and they sure did. I have asked these people and they were delighted to hear San Luis Obispo was the happiest place to live 3 years ago and here they came, camping just about everywhere.

    We did not ask for this, when people steal shopping carts and they fill those shopping carts full of stuff so they can move in it the middle of the night and a week later, everything is right our commercial properties.

    What things maybe in the trash? Let’s see, lots of stolen prescription drugs such as painkillers and everything pill form (they break into homes and they still people’s medicine cabinets) , porno magazines, sex toys, crack pipes, smelly clothes and I mean real smelly, lots of used laptops, batteries, and stolen camping gear. I mean just about everything we have found has been stolen from local people in town and these homeless people basically get a hold of these things and they live in it. If I could post photos of 15 illegal homeless camping sites in San Luis Obispo just this year on my commercial properties I could post them so everybody could see the mess we see. To see the deconstruction they do when they camp at night is awful, they will find open car doors in low light area’s and more will be an issue since the City installed those awful low level LED street lights, there will be more crime now SLO because of low lighting now.

    For one, this is not only trash but is a liability if these people camp in your properties, they do so without asking and commonly they start fires and cut trees down, they burn plastic, car tires or just about anything harmful to the environment. If anybody remembers the old vacant nursery on Tank Farms road and Broad Street, the fire last January, well those are the same individual’s that damaged our properties, we kicked them out and they ended up there and see what happened? They burned the barn down; they were drinking and partying at 3am in the morning which started it. They cart so much stuff in and they pile it up and spread everything around. When they buy food, they basically throw the wrappers anywhere; it is as real shame to see this.

    Normally we call the police to have them look at the camp site, show them the drugs and etc stuff, anybody will tell you to dump it, especially the prescription drugs, you gather that stuff and have any local pharmacy depose so it doesn’t get in the ecosystem.

    So my view is, if you find stuff and they are camping, throw it out. It is a liability and if you don’t, they will haul all that junk somewhere else. So the best thing to do is throw it out.

    (27) 45 Total Votes - 36 up - 9 down
    • Slowerfaster says:

      “So my view is, if you find stuff and they are camping, throw it out. It is a liability and if you don’t, they will haul all that junk somewhere else. So the best thing to do is throw it out.”

      i think…i would rather, THROW you out.

      Your ‘stuff’ is toxic. A modern Lady Macbeth !

      (-26) 54 Total Votes - 14 up - 40 down
    • godislanguage says:

      Bingo! As cold hearted as this sounds, squatting on public or private property to establish a residence is not an acceptable practice. Programs are in place to help these individuals, some just want to live this lifestyle at the expense of our collective civility.

      (31) 35 Total Votes - 33 up - 2 down
      • mkaney says:

        These people are not squatting to establish a residence. In most states, it takes 5-10 years of squatting in a single location without any interference from the landlord to establish any rights.

        (1) 9 Total Votes - 5 up - 4 down
      • Rambunctious says:

        So they put up a fence to keep me out and to keep mother nature in…if God were here he’d tell you to your face man you’re some kind of sinner…

        (-6) 10 Total Votes - 2 up - 8 down
    • ReelView says:

      I’d really like to see you come down with a horrific illness, become unable to pay your bills any longer, lose your home, and anything and everything that ever mattered to you. Let’s see how you survive. Something will happen to those like you.
      Sure, as I have said before, multiple times, there are way too many lazy homeless in SLO, but we see who’s fault that is…Dee Torres.
      Can’t wait to see you rot!

      (-6) 8 Total Votes - 1 up - 7 down
  2. Slowerfaster says:

    Something missing from the article: Who gives the orders for these ‘siezings’ ? Who signs the paychecks for these mercenary garbagemen ?

    Two relevant quotes from Edmund Burke: the first attributed … “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”;
    and, “People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. if laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous”.

    (-7) 31 Total Votes - 12 up - 19 down
  3. hijinks says:

    ““It is not the city’s policy to dispose of any found personal property or possessions except in accordance with legal requirements,” Codron wrote in an email.” Why does everything this a– says sound like some PR person from “1984” wrote it?

    (8) 26 Total Votes - 17 up - 9 down
  4. Boris says:

    I’ve been there. I’ve met some good people that were homeless. I’ve also met some real pieces of… People that would give you the shirt off their back. Half their food. Feed your dog. On the other hand, people that spent all their time, trying to scam something. That instead of buying some food, they’d buy some crank, or crack, or liquor. People that would steal your food, your drinking water, steal gas for their junk cars, steal license plates and cut the tag off with sheet metal snips and glue it onto their expired ones.

    One of the other replies is absolutely correct. Get off the drugs. Get off the alcohol. Quit bumming cigarettes and money for liquor or weed or meth. Straighten your ass up. I see the same people standing on the same corners with their signs, please help, need gas to get home. All bullshit. And very few of them are willing to work.

    They’ve got no one to blame but themselves. Some girl/woman told me the economy has kept her unemployed for over 5 years. Bullshit. You’ve kept yourself unemployed for 5 years. You seem to be able to keep having kids that the state keeps taking from you. But you can’t get a job? Right.

    If you don’t move forward, in 5 years, you’ll still be standing there in the same place. I finally cleaned up my act. It took getting off of dope. It took a very strong, personal effort. But I’m back into mainstream society. I hope you guys make it. But I doubt if most of you will, you just aren’t willing to do the work required.


    (45) 53 Total Votes - 49 up - 4 down
    • Boris says:

      I forgot to add. If you’ve got babies living in the bushes under a bridge with you, you should give them up for adoption, for their own good. If you can’t maintain a house for your babies, you shouldn’t be having them.

      (51) 63 Total Votes - 57 up - 6 down
      • r0y says:

        Many of us know to whom you refer. I agree. Stop using babies as a way to get more out of the system. It’s insidious.

        (14) 16 Total Votes - 15 up - 1 down
    • leatherpink says:

      Well said

      (13) 23 Total Votes - 18 up - 5 down
  5. jrstone says:

    “Stay Clean and get a job.” What great advise! But we must mix in some good old facts with your well thought out advise;

    When looking for a job there is the matter of an application to be filled out, and that application asks for a permanent current address. Just about every business in town knows that 43 Prado Road is the Prado Day Center serving our homeless (The buses even advertise it on their route maps “Prado Day Center” stop) so you are not using a permanent current address. And you are not allowed by CAPSLO to use the Shelters address. Strike One!

    Now, if you get past Strike One there is the matter of what hours you can work. The Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter requires you to be in a bed between the hours 7pm and 7am for a minimum amount of hours, six I believe (this has to do with funding). So now you cannot work the swing or graveyard shifts or any variation there of because the shelter will not accommodate you and allow you to sleep in the facility during your off time (even if you are in their Case Management Program). Strike Two!

    Staying clean (I am taking it for granted you mean “personal cleanliness” and not sobriety)? If you can’t access the Shelter and Prado is out of reach because of time and distance constraints some might encounter, well, Strike Three!

    Granted, you could sleep in the park during the day, use a public restroom to “bird bathe” in, you could get bye for a while doing that, right? But then you would have to worry about local law enforcement getting involved if you appear to be loitering or some “Stay Clean And Get A Job” resident calls them to complain. And then again, just how long could you sustain living like that and stay employed? Shit, Strike Four!

    We also live in a community with a very large college student population and they are the preferred hire of most of the employers here in SLO, hands down! Damn it, Strike Five!

    Then there are those pesky unemployed individuals (6 or 7 percent according to who you believe) that don’t have those type of challenges and are far more attractive to any employer. Oh Hell, Strike Six!

    Do you see where I’m going with this? Do you see the challenges involved in getting a job when you are houseless? And no matter how many times you say “GET A JOB” or how loud you yell it, it does not change those facts.

    I have an idea though; instead of telling people to get a job? OFFER THEM ONE!!! Get employers and the community together and look for and identify those of us that can and will work and hire us first! Work with CAPSLO on arrangements to accommodate those with shifts that have not been accommodated in the past with sleeping facilities. Have job fairs at the Prado Day Center. Ask CAPSLO why is it not part of their ten year plan to end homelessness on the central coast to hire those that they service? They should be the first to be considered if an opening becomes available and they are qualified for, but they are not (It is my understanding, since I can’t get anyone at CAPSLO to confirm or deny it, that a person has to be absent from CAPSLO services for two years before they can be considered for employment. What a crock!!!).

    I have been extremely fortunate in the past two weeks, Boomer and I have a roof over our heads now and will continue to because of the empathy and kindness of a member of this community. Is it free? No, it is not. I’ve had to earn it, and I have. This person looked at the reality of my situation, looked at me as an individual and stepped forward and said “I’ll Help You Help Yourself”! That’s all some of us need. No, really that’s it! You just have to extend it, that’s all.

    Jeff Stone

    (4) 56 Total Votes - 30 up - 26 down
    • obispan says:

      You’re going to have to find a job on your employer’s terms, not yours. Start with that. When your employer faces significant cost and inconvenience should you leave for another job then your terms come into play.

      (5) 25 Total Votes - 15 up - 10 down
    • Slowerfaster says:

      Jeff, First…I am gratified that your personal situation has improved. Every little step up can be giant when at the bottom.
      Whoever is your benefactor deserves a shout out, too.

      One other ‘Strike’ that is ignored now is age discrimination. They all pretend it doesn’t exist, but we all know that it goes on. We see it all the time, where there is ONE age tokenism employee ( in multiple employee shops ) in in order to skirt the law.

      (7) 21 Total Votes - 14 up - 7 down
    • Nordic critic says:

      Relocate to an area w/ job opportunities.

      (18) 26 Total Votes - 22 up - 4 down
      • Slowerfaster says:

        ‘Relocate to an area w/ job opportunities.’

        This is the usual bugaboo response from fascist/conservative sources.
        Forced relocation, i.e. the Trail of Tears and other monstrousities.

        You missed your time, Nordic critic, The Nazis woulda loved you !

        (-12) 22 Total Votes - 5 up - 17 down
        • unlisted says:

          Okay, how about “don’t move to a place where there are no jobs in the first place.”

          Our weather and reputation seem to attract more than our share of derelicts who want a handout.

          (10) 14 Total Votes - 12 up - 2 down
        • Boris says:

          If 12 million (estimates run from several million to 20 million) illegal aliens can find a job, not speaking English, why can’t these guys find a job? It’s because they don’t want a job. I know, I was there. For a long time, dope and booze was more important to me than getting to work. I’ve NEVER had a problem finding a job. The main problem was, getting to work on time, or at all, because I was loaded. Or I’d get paid, and you wouldn’t see me until I ran out of money.

          The excuse that they can’t find a job, because of the economy, because of the illegals, because of the 1% (and I don’t mean hardcore bikers), because THE MAN is keeping them down, is all bullshit. You’re keeping yourself down.

          I just don’t get the sympathy that some give these guys. Unless they are crippled or mentally unstable, there is no reason in the world they can’t get a job. Car Wash. Bus tables. Gardening. Lots of stuff even completely unskilled people can do. Yet, how do these, 20, 30, 40, 50 + year old people live this long without getting some sort of job skill?

          Come on guys, get with it.

          Boris and Natasha.

          (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
  6. As the world turns says:

    Get paid $1600 a day to violate others’ rights. Such a liberal and compassionate thing to do. Good going SLO.

    (-2) 36 Total Votes - 17 up - 19 down
    • Nordic critic says:

      That $1600 is divided up between multiple persons. And then there is the cost of hauling stuff to the dump. You never hear the homeless complaining about someone hauling off their sanitary facilities because they don’t have any. You don’t want the job of cleaning out these camps. The occupants refuse to participate in provided programs / shelters due to addiction. They stumble out from under the Madonna overpass and get hit by cars. My only complaint against this program is that these displaced occupants are relocating to outlying areas. The allure of SLO’s liberal, abundant foot traffic is too strong to leave behind.

      (15) 21 Total Votes - 18 up - 3 down

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