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Discarded items left behind by unsheltered individuals are removed during a scheduled maintenance at Meadowbrook Park in San Bernardino on Monday, May 15, 2023. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Discarded items left behind by unsheltered individuals are removed during a scheduled maintenance at Meadowbrook Park in San Bernardino on Monday, May 15, 2023. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Madison Hart
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

A federal judge has barred the city of San Bernardino from removing and displacing unhoused individuals, five months after three people experiencing homelessness and mobility impairments filed a lawsuit against the city.

The judge found the city destroyed the belongings of homeless residents, failed to accommodate their needs and “likely” violated their constitutional rights and their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) according to a news release issued by the ACLU of Southern California.

In his Jan. 12 ruling, Judge Terry Hatter Jr. granted a barring the city from removing or displacing unhoused residents and their belongings pending further judicial review of the case.

“The City is disappointed in Judge Hatter’s temporary order,” San Bernardino spokesperson Jeff Kraus said via email Friday, Jan. 19. “Prior to the City conducting maintenance operations at Perris Hill Park and other locations, the City offered every unhoused person in the park assistance and hotel vouchers to those who requested them. The City also responded to those who requested ADA assistance and provided evidence of this to the court, but unfortunately the court chose to accept the declarations of individuals who claimed to have not been offered assistance.”

The August 2023 lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs Lenka John, James Tyson and Noel Harner, along with SoCal Trash Army, a grassroots nonprofit with a focus on assisting the region’s unhoused residents.

“Living outside is hard, and even harder when you have disabilities,” said John, according to the ACLU news release. “The city of San Bernardino should be helping us — not hurting us.”

The three plaintiffs were pushed out of Meadowbrook Park when it was closed in May 2023 for maintenance. They said they had submitted accommodation requests to the city since moving would be difficult with mobility impairments, which they alleged the city did not appropriately respond to.

“This is not a final decision,” Kraus said of Hatter’s ruling. “The court stated it will consider vacating its order if the City provides it with a written policy outlining homeless encampment clean-up operations and the City is developing such a policy.”

The city declared homelessness a local emergency in February 2023 and has since been working to develop a plan to provide housing options for those without permanent shelter. In December, the City Council approved spending $3 million on a voucher program to provide motel accommodations to those experiencing homelessness.

More recently, the California Department of Housing and Community Development awarded San Bernardino nearly $35 million to construct interim housing for nearly 140 individuals, a project the city expects to be completed by spring 2025, according to a news release.

San Bernardino reported during the 2023 Point-In-Time Count, an annual canvass of the homeless population. The 2024 canvass is planned for Thursday, Jan. 25.

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