Society

Lawsuit: California County 'Imprisoned' Homeless People

| by Michael Allen

A homeless man, Michael Diehl, asserted in a Feb. 10 lawsuit that Orange County, California, has "effectively imprisoned" homeless people by erecting 6-foot-high chain-link fences near a makeshift homeless encampment on the banks of the Santa Ana River.

The ACLU of Southern California, which represents Diehl, accused the county of unreasonable seizure, false imprisonment and due process violations, notes Courthouse News Service.

The lawsuit calls for the county to remove the fences that are allegedly imprisoning 75 to 100 homeless people and their personal property.

According to the lawsuit, the fences hinder homeless people from accessing food, water and health care.

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Diehl said in the lawsuit that paramedics had problems reaching a woman having a seizure at the camp because the fencing blocked parts of nearby sidewalks. These barriers also allegedly create problems for elderly and disabled people.

ACLU homelessness policy analyst Eve Garrow stated: "Children, people with severe disabilities, the elderly and others are deprived of food, water and access to restrooms. The county should take action to rectify this egregious violation of basic human rights."

Orange County officials said in a statement that the fencing is part of a flood control project, and that the area will be used to stockpile sand and large rocks:

The county is aware that there are homeless encampments in the project area. Flood control channels are not a safe place to live. Sign postings and in-person notifications about the project have been provided to those encamped along the county maintenance road.

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Diehl asserted in his lawsuit that police have told homeless people to move to the riverbank to avoid being cited for sleeping in public.

A second lawsuit filed against Orange County on Feb. 13 by five homeless people alleged that county workers destroyed some belongings of homeless people, and moved other personal property to a Lake Forest location, reports The Orange County Register.

According to county spokeswoman Carrie Braun, the homeless people agreed to move to the new location and that public employees were helping them go through their personal belongings to decide what was valuable and what was trash.

Nick Mastrisciano, one of the homeless people suing Orange County, said in the lawsuit that he was told by county workers to move his personal property in one hour, which was problematic because he has a disability due to a brain injury.

Mastrisciano alleged he subsequently lost a number of personal items, including his sleeping bag, driver's license, clothing, cellphone and important paperwork.

Sources: Courthouse News Service, The Orange County Register / Photo credit: Justin Smith/Wikimedia Commons

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