DelDOT’s removal of homeless under bridge questioned

 

DOVER — A group of homeless people displaced by the Department of Transportation has activists asking questions and the agency reviewing the incident.

Jeanine Kleimo, chair of the homeless shelter Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, said several homeless men huddled under a bridge recently were forced to leave.

“My understanding is that people were simply removed and they weren’t allowed to collect their possessions, so even though they may not have had things that were valuable, they were their personal items, including identification and important papers,” she said.

The episode happened at the bridge on U.S. 13 stretching over the St. Jones River in Dover, which lies less than a mile from Legislative Hall.

Ms. Kleimo said the incident occurred about 11 days ago. Both she and justice-reform advocate Ken Abraham said the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware was aware of the event and is possibly looking into it.

Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for DelDOT, confirmed DelDOT employees did clear some people from the bridge but could not provide additional details.

Secretary Jennifer Cohan “is conducting an internal review of what occurred that should be complete in a day to two,” he said in an email.

Jennifer Cohan

Jennifer Cohan

According to Ms. Kleimo, DelDOT personnel said repairs to the bridge were being slowed by the homeless individuals gathered by it.

While there may not be specific prohibitions in state law on removing homeless people and destroying their possessions, a federal judge last month issued an injunction on Los Angeles, which the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said had “undertaken a mass practice and policy of clearing Skid Row and its surrounding areas of homeless people” and confiscating their items.

“On the one hand, the court takes into account the immediate public health hazards posed by some of the property held by homeless individuals,” Judge S. James Otero wrote. “There are areas of Skid Row that contain biohazardous material, which may breed bacteria and disease. … On the other hand, the court recognizes the significant, constitutionally protected property interests at stake for the homeless.

“These property interests encompass essentials, necessary for their day-to-day survival. … Although a preliminary injunction will place additional burdens on the city to keep Los Angeles safe, plaintiffs risk greater harm if the preliminary injunction is not granted. To put it bluntly, plaintiffs may not survive without some of the essential property that has been confiscated.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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