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Supreme Court upholds ruling banning L.A. from destroying belongings of homeless

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 12:48 p.m. MDT

A homeless man, center, sleeps among his possessions Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 on Skid Row in Los Angeles. The United States Supreme Court let stand a lower court's ruling preventing Los Angeles officials from taking the possessions of homeless people in order to clean up the streets. (Nick Ut, ASSOCIATED PRESS) A homeless man, center, sleeps among his possessions Thursday Feb. 28, 2013 on Skid Row in Los Angeles. The United States Supreme Court let stand a lower court's ruling preventing Los Angeles officials from taking the possessions of homeless people in order to clean up the streets. (Nick Ut, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Supreme Court let stand a lower court's ruling that Los Angeles city officials can't just take things from the homeless to make the streets look cleaner.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the curious case resulted from a lawsuit filed by eight homeless people who said Los Angeles city workers and police officers came and took their belongings left behind while they were gone only temporarily — to fill up water bottles, use the restroom or line up for food.

The homeless plaintiffs said officials snatched "their personal possessions — including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries," the Times said.

The high court, without comment, let stand a 2-1 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that said the possessions of the homeless can only be taken if they posed an immediate threat to the public health or were evidence of a crime. If the city takes any belongings, they must give owners a chance to retrieve them before they are destroyed.

In other words, the city can't just take the belongings of the homeless and destroy them for no reason.

The L.A. Times reports the city has been engaged in an ongoing campaign to clean up the streets of skid row, which prompted the destruction of the belongings.

City attorney Carmen Trutanich had argued that the ban set up by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posed a public health hazard by preventing the city from cleaning up the streets.

Carol Sobel, the attorney for the homeless plaintiffs, accused the city of purposely letting trash pile up for months to support its legal argument.

"The city could find no evidence of a public health crisis," she told the Times. "The thing they should do is provide housing for the people."

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company