Homeless People Seek Emergency Court Order to End Ticketing of People Sheltering in Vehicles and Vehicle Impoundments During the COVID-19 Pandemic
May 1, 2020 – San Diego, CA – During the midst of a deadly COVID-19 pandemic, homeless people who shelter in vehicles, many with disabilities, filed a request for an Emergency Temporary Restraining Order in the U.S. District Court yesterday to prevent the City from continuing to endanger their lives through its ticketing and impoundment policies.
The motion was filed in the case of Bloom et al. vs. City of San Diego, a class action law suit alleging that City ordinances prohibiting vehicle habitation and nighttime RV parking are unconstitutional and also disproportionately burden people with disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The motion also asks that the Court require the City to allow homeless people to return to City parks with their vehicles to allow them regular access to public bathrooms and showers located in the parks. On March 23, 2020, City parks were closed and approximately 200 people who shelter in vehicles were forced to leave the areas of Mission Bay, Mission Beach and other beach parking lots. This left many people who have no practical options for shelter but their vehicles with no access to proper sanitation, creating the pre-conditions for new epidemics.
While residents of the City of San Diego and much of the country are being ordered to shelter in place to prevent spread of COVID-19, the City has prevented people who shelter in vehicles from doing likewise. Instead, people in vehicles are being threatened with arrest, having their vehicles impounded and thrown into the streets without shelter or forced into congregate shelters like the Convention Center or crowded “safe lots” that will likely increase their risk of catching this infection. This is despite the fact that many of those affected have medical conditions such as chronic lung disease, heart disease or asthma and compromised immune systems that according to the Center for Disease Control, places them at particularly high risk for complications from the disease.
Shira Tevah, an attorney from Disability Rights Advocates, said, “Criminalizing people experiencing homelessness, many of whom have disabilities, is never ok, but it is especially egregious in the context of a public health crisis that is already having a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable communities.”
“This is a life and death matter,” said Ann Menasche, an attorney from Disability Rights California. “The City gave us no option but to seek relief from the Court to protect our clients and the public health during this dangerous pandemic. Threatening people with arrest for vehicle habitation, ticketing them, taking their vehicle shelters and forcing them into the streets or into the Convention Center is the exact opposite of what we need.”
David Wilson, one of the Plaintiffs in Bloom who has multiple medical conditions that make him highly vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, “Since the shutdown I have been forced out of Mission Beach where I used to park in the handicapped spot,” said Wilson. “This has meant that I no longer have a reliable place to go to the bathroom, shower or to wash my hands frequently as I’m supposed to do to protect myself from infection. I also have a bleeding tumor that I have been unable to keep clean. I have to worry constantly about fighting tickets and about being arrested for Vehicle Habitation. And I’m scared about catching this virus. Why can’t we just be left to shelter in place in peace like everybody else?”
Plaintiffs in Bloom are represented by Disability Rights Advocates; Disability Rights California; the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty; Fish & Richardson P.C.; Dreher Law Firm; Manfred, APC; and Bonnett Fairbourn Friedman & Balint PC.
Disability Rights California is a nonprofit organization founded in 1978. We protect the rights of people with disabilities. Visit disabilityrightsca.org.
Disability Rights Advocates is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. Visit dralegal.org.