Sweeping the Homeless Under the Rug

Arrests in SeattleRecent “ Sweeps” in Seattle and San Diego Leave Those with Little, Nothing

City politicians, often pressured by the public, sometimes take drastic and dehumanizing measures to deal with homelessness. San Diego County’s “Operation Clean Sweep” is among the more sinister methods.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Sheriff’s deputies converged on several homeless camps in Spring Valley early yesterday, warning people to leave or be arrested.”

“The primary target of Operation Clean Sweep was a swath of land–referred to as Bamboo City by deputies. Authorities believe as many as 30 people live there in tents and ramshackle shelters about 20 yards from homes,” the article continues.

“Operation Clean Sweep” organizers hope that criminalizing homelessness will rid their city of homeless individuals. But, in doing so, it will only make the lives of those living in the camps more difficult and do nothing to secure permanent housing for San Diego’s homeless.

Unfortunately, sweeps like this are common. Victims of a similar sweep in a Seattle homeless camp recently had all of their belongings sent to a landfill. Camp residents and homeless advocates, who were arrested protesting the sweep, say they lost essential items like clothes, bikes, mattresses, and tents.

“They see the time the city takes their stuff as a defining moment in their lives: Before the city took our stuff and after the city took our stuff,” said Doug McKeehen, an advocate for the homeless in Seattle.

Luckily, there’s legal precedent in California that may help victims of these sweeps. Fresno, California, and the California Department of Transportation recently paid $2.3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit on behalf of homeless people whose belongings were tossed during sweeps of homeless camps. Still, the lawsuit could take years, leaving the homeless with few protections in the meantime.

Note: This is another article I wrote for an interview.