Landmark Court Decision Protects Unhoused Individuals with Disabilities in San Bernardino

By Xinhui Lin

SAN BERNARDINO, CA – The U.S. District Court earlier this month granted a preliminary injunction in the case Tyson v. San Bernardino, barring the City of San Bernardino from removing and displacing unhoused people and their belongings within the city.

According to the official U.S. District Court order, plaintiffs Noel Harner, Lenka John and James Tyson have been grappling with homelessness since May, 2023. Additionally, they shared mobility-related disabilities that caused them to use wheelchairs.

As reported in the court order, in June 2023, the City of San Bernardino evicted them from their campgrounds at Perris Hill Park and Meadowbrook Park. Their personal properties were also seized and destroyed by the city, including essential items, medications, and crucial mobility aids.

According to the ACLU of Southern California, the difficult situation of people in walkers and wheelchairs was exacerbated as they were forced to move with what little belongings they could carry, noting it was nearly impossible for them to relocate due to their mobility impairments.

And, the ACLU SoCal said, these unhoused people often ended up in remote and inaccessible washes or ravines next to the park.

Lenka John, one of the plaintiffs, expressed the challenges of living outside with disabilities. “Living outside is hard, and even harder when you have disabilities,” said John. “The city of San Bernardino should be helping us—not hurting us.”

This sentiment found resonance with Brooke Weitzman, executive director of Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, who said, “People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable during these sweeps.”

According to the ACLU of Southern California, the lawsuit was filed in August 2023 and supported by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, and Elder Law and Disability Rights Center.

As noted in the court order, all Plaintiffs alleged claims against the city for discrimination, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, unreasonable search and seizure and improper destruction of personal property. The court order reveals that these claims were rooted in violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article I, § 13 of the California Constitution.

Kath Rogers, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal, emphasized, “People do not lose their constitutional rights just because they are unhoused.”

The court condemned San Bernardino’s practices, deeming the removal of unhoused individuals, destruction of their personal property and the failure to accommodate their disability needs as violations of constitutional rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rogers further explained, “This court ruling will ensure that unhoused members of our community will not have their property illegally confiscated and destroyed.”

“Our clients are relieved that they can safely protect themselves from the winter weather while they wait for the city to take real evidence-based steps toward ending the housing crisis and compliance with federal protections for people with disabilities, ” stated Brooke Weitzman.

About The Author

Xinhui Lin is a first-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a double major in Public Affairs and Sociology on a Pre-law track. Her unwavering commitment to addressing social injustices is deeply rooted in her cultural background and her personal experiences while growing up in Shanghai, China. Xinhui keenly observed the pervasive gender and racial inequalities, the subtle yet significant discrimination against minority groups, and the everyday micro-aggressions that disenfranchised individuals face. After exploring the philosophical question regarding the intricate relationship between power, morality, and justice, Xinhui kindled her interest in the intricacies of the criminal justice system – a cornerstone of society meant to epitomize principles of justice and fairness. Her commitment to understanding and improving this system is evident in her aspirations to potentially pursue a career as an attorney, with a strong desire to advocate for disadvantaged individuals.

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