PITTSBURGH – The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Community Justice Project are urging city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials to work with local stakeholders, experts, and residents to develop a set of clear rules and regulations regarding the closure of homeless encampments.
In a letter sent on Thursday, the civil rights advocates offered to work with city and county officials and the people impacted by the closure of the Stockton Avenue homeless encampment last month. The letter states that unhoused people living there were given inadequate time or resources to find alternative shelter and their possessions were removed without any clear inventory or indication of how a person might recover them. Additionally, a sleeping woman in a tent was reportedly lifted by a front loader and fell more than six feet to the ground before being discovered.
The clearing of the Stockton Avenue encampment is in apparent violation of a 2003 settlement agreement in Sagar v. City of Pittsburgh, which established a clear process for how the city identifies, tracks, and stores the possessions of unhoused people who are moved out of encampments.
“The city’s December closure of the Stockton Avenue encampment paid little to no regard for the ACLU’s 2003 settlement that set guidelines for giving notice of eviction and safeguarding of personal property,” said Witold Walczak, legal director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We look forward to a proactive and collaborative policy discussion with both city and county officials to ensure that homeless people’s constitutional rights are respected in the future.”
“With homelessness on the rise in Allegheny County due to the fallout from the pandemic and the crushing overdose epidemic, now is the time that city and county officials commit to a humane approach to helping the unhoused,” said Dan Vitek, staff attorney with the Community Justice Project. “Pittsburgh has the opportunity to become a shining example of a compassionate and effective approach, based on best practices that protect people’s dignity, their rights, and their autonomy—but only if our leaders engage with and listen to those with lived experience.”
You can read the full letter here.