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Puyallup sued for illegally trashing belongings during homeless camp sweeps

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- A group of people who lived in a Puyallup homeless encampment is suing the City and Pierce County alleging their personal belongings and medical records were illegally thrown away.

A Seattle-firm is representing six plaintiffs who say the camps and their property was bulldozed without notice during sweeps in 2016 and 2017.

“Here, we believe that the city and county have violated the rights of people living without housing in Puyallup,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Tristia Bauman, who works for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty told The News Tribune.

Both the City of Puyallup and Pierce County say they gave ample notice to people living in camps and that they "prioritize health and safety for all citizens in our community."

Read the full statement from the City of Puyallup:

A large Seattle-based law firm has sued the City of Puyallup and Pierce County on behalf of six homeless plaintiffs. The Seattle law firm alleges that the plaintiffs were victimized because the City and County cleaned up volumes of trash, waste and debris at encampments which had been established by trespassing individuals.

When encampments form, it is very common for large amounts of trash, waste and debris to accumulate. These accumulations are a significant public health and environmental issue—they can include used drug needles and other harmful paraphernalia, human waste, rotting materials, broken glass, jagged and rusting metal, splintered boards with nails, moldy clothing or bedding items, non-biodegradable plastics, spoiled food, and paint cans and other chemical receptacles, among other identifiable and non-identifiable substances. Accumulations of this type create latent dangers that can injure people, such as needles, sharp or jagged metal edges, nails, splintered wood; or cause damage to the immediate and surrounding natural environment, including our local waterways which empty into Puget Sound.

The City of Puyallup prioritizes health and safety for all citizens in our community. When it is necessary to conduct a homeless encampment clean-up due to the clear presence of dangerous and unhealthy conditions, all affected persons are given ample notice and sufficient time to collect and remove their belongings. They are also referred to resources and services which can assist them if they choose to accept such services.

The City of Puyallup allocates funds to various organizations for the purpose of providing emergency shelter, rapid re-housing and other services to persons experiencing homelessness. The City also grants funds for extending homelessness prevention services to at-risk populations. Further, the City currently contracts with Comprehensive Life Resources for two full-time social workers to provide outreach services to homeless persons in Puyallup and continues to dedicate one full-time law enforcement officer to support the homeless and address impacts from homelessness as has been done for several years.

The complaint contains false characterizations and numerous egregious misstatements of fact. The City looks forward to correcting the record in this regard.