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Judge finds Seattle’s encampment removal policy partially unconstitutional

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(The Center Square) – A King County judge has ruled parts of Seattle’s encampment removal policy unconstitutional.

“The court’s order does not prohibit the removal of encampments,” said Tim Robinson, communications manager for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. “The city does plan to seek appeal.”

King County Superior Court Judge David Keenan ruled on July 13 that the City of Seattle’s homeless encampment removal policy is partially unconstitutional. He ordered in Kitcheon v. City of Seattle that the city’s encampment removal rules violate homeless peoples’ privacy rights and can constitute “cruel punishment.”

“Unhoused people have a constitutional privacy right,” the order reads. “Rules provide authority of law in some circumstances to invade that right.”

The judge wrote the rules partially violate the Washington Constitution’s Article I, Sections 7 and 14, letting the city “invade” homeless peoples’ privacy rights and move homeless people, sometimes subjecting them to penalties, without “immediate hazard, true obstruction or other emergent situation or law enforcement context.”

Bobby Kitcheon and Candace Ream, both unhoused and residing in Seattle, claim encampment sweeps took their shelter and belongings like medications, heirlooms, presents for their children, work tools and clothing, according to documents published by Axios. So the ACLU sued the city on their behalf in 2019, according to a news release.

“Unhoused people have a right of privacy in the places that they call home,” ACLU Washington’s Legal Director La Rond Baker said in the news release. “Absent a significant governmental interest and an offer of shelter, the city cannot simply invade the homes of people.”

Robinson said the case is ongoing and requires further proceedings.

The Seattle/King County metro area had America’s third-largest homeless population as of 2021, according to The Seattle Times, with more than 11,700 homeless people. Washington state had the nation’s fifth-largest homeless population at the time, with more than 22,900 homeless.

The state’s largest encampment, Camp Hope in Spokane, closed in June. Various agencies spent $125.5 million in the last two years on the project, which housed close to 600 people at its peak. The area’s homeless population had increased 36% since 2022 as of April.

“Camp Hope highlighted the scale and complexity of our housing and homelessness efforts,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement at the time. “This work requires collaboration with local governments and community partners.”

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