Judge: Clark County liable for clearing homeless camps

A trial will determine how much the county must pay

A rapidly growing homeless camp west of downtown Vancouver is raising concerns with some neighbors who say the campers are taking over the area. (KOIN)
A rapidly growing homeless camp west of downtown Vancouver. (KOIN)

SEATTLE (AP) – A federal judge in Tacoma has found a southwest Washington county liable for clearing out homeless encampments and seizing the residents’ belongings.

A trash-filled Vancouver homeless camp was bulldozed due to "health reasons". (KOIN)
A trash-filled Vancouver homeless camp was bulldozed due to “health reasons”. (KOIN)

In a ruling Friday, Judge Robert Bryan said Clark County’s work crews violated the constitutional rights of at least a half-dozen homeless residents when it threw out their tents, stoves, medication, documents and photographs.

Some campers had left to eat meals at a local shelter, then returned to find the work crews seizing their property and refusing to give it back.

One homeless resident left a backpack at a bus stop while he offered to help a woman whose car had broken down. The work crew took it. Inside the backpack were new clothes he had been given so he could apply for a job.

A homeless encampment in Vancouver, Wash. on Sept. 16, 2016. (KOIN)
A homeless encampment in Vancouver, Wash. on Sept. 16, 2016. (KOIN)

Robert Usher lives across the street from a stretch of homeless camps in Vancouver and says not all of the mess is trash.

“It’s important to them. Some of it’s personal belongings,” Usher said. “Like, ‘oh my grandma gave me a necklace’ or something that’s sentimental. When you take something from that person it just brings them down even further.”

Ripple effects of the decision could present an unforeseen challenge to other local governments that want to clear out homeless encampments, even in Oregon.

A trial will determine how much the county must pay in damages.

KOIN reporter Andrew Dymburt contributed to this report.

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