News & Politics

City to Pass Law Allowing Cops to Seize Homeless People's Belongings

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is about to codify the total disregard for the property rights of the homeless into law.

Messing with homeless people's property is a time-honored tactic used by cities across the U.S. to bully the homeless until they go elsewhere (problem solved!). Police often threaten to confiscate homelesspeople's things, and cities sometimesbulldozeover their encampments, leading to a loss of essential items like medicine or documents.

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is about to codify the total disregard for the property rights of the homeless into law. As Scott Keyes writes in Think Progress, the city is close to passing a measure that would prohibit keeping personal items in public. Police would be able to seize personal belongings after a 24-hour notice, but if they decide the materials pose a threat to public safety, health or welfare, officers can take them without prior notice and just leave a note. The city keeps confiscated property for 30 days (7 days if it's deemed a safety risk). Anyone who wants their things back before they're disposed of must prove ownership and compensate the city for its trouble, paying  “reasonable charges for storage and removal of the items,” according to the language of the measure (the fee could be waived if they prove they can't pay it).

As Keyes points out, the city cites its "interest in aesthetics" as one justification for the measure. The importance of pleasing visuals aside, opponents point out that homeless people don't choose to keep their stuff in public to mess up the scenery but because they don't have homes to store it.

As the Sun Sentinel reports:

Jeff Weinberger of the Broward Homeless Campaign said the homeless "don't have a choice but to keep their stuff outside."

"How does this help? How does this not exemplify cruelty?" Weinberger said. "People need their stuff. Homeless people have little enough."

The city is just getting started. They're also in the process of crafting legislation that would limit the activities of groups who feed the hungry, ban panhandling at intersections and prohibit sleeping on public property, the Sun Sentinel reports. As advocates for the homeless point out, making it against the law to engage in life-sustaining activities on the street without providing alternatives essentially makes it a crime to be homeless.