The ACLU of Rhode Island has called on Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Paré to address the “actions and constitutionally suspect procedural shortcuts” that it took last week in an attempt to oust the people living in a homeless encampment on Wilson Street in Providence. Although the City has since backed off of its plan to evict the occupants, an ACLU letter to the two officials raised major concerns about the police’s unwarranted and unlawful intrusion into the privacy of those living in the encampment and the lack of due process in the initial effort to kick them out.
The letter states:
“The three-sentence written notice that was issued gave them 48 hours to vacate the premises or else face ‘consequences to include civil and criminal prosecution.’ What is striking about this cursory warning is that it provided absolutely no information whatsoever as to the exact basis for the eviction, failed to include any reference to the ‘civil or criminal’ laws that were being violated, and made no mention of a method for appealing the notice…. In short, the notice was missing the most rudimentary elements of due process….”
The letter notes that, according to news reports, the City’s rationale for the intrusion was to “protect those at the lot from unsafe conditions. But…little concern was shown for their safety in summarily trying to roust them from the site with nowhere to go.”
In fact, the letter argues, the City’s efforts violated a state law which directs that occupants of housing deemed unsafe be provided safe and sanitary accommodations before being forced to leave. The police action of unilaterally entering occupants’ tents, the ACLU claimed, also violated a state law which guarantees homeless individuals a right to privacy in their property.
While acknowledging later comments from the Mayor “recognizing the need to find housing solutions for the people staying at the Wilson Street site rather than literally throwing them back onto the street,” the letter said it was “critical” that “the City also review and address the initial actions and constitutionally suspect procedural shortcuts it took last week which did have the goal of throwing them onto the street.”
The letter concludes by asking for a response from the two officials “about both the propriety of the 48-hour-notice given to those encamped at Wilson Street and the searches of their property that took place, along with information about any steps you will be taking to prevent a repeat of this conduct in the future.”