This February, EBCLC achieved a critical victory in Sanchez v Caltrans, a lawsuit to protect the rights of unsheltered people nationwide and restituting the Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville homeless community for their destroyed belongings in a $5.5M settlement, $1.3M of which was earmarked to compensate claimants. Since then, EBCLC, led by Clean Slate Supervising Attorney Osha Neumann, Staff Attorney Candy Smallwood, and partners at Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco (LCCR), Homeless Action Center and over 200 volunteers, worked tirelessly to submit 1,529 claims for 1,315 claimants in the large class action before the December 14 filing deadline.
This massive undertaking is particularly notable in light of the challenges caused by conducting outreach to encampments during a pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, the team anticipated continuing in-person outreach at homeless encampments but quickly had to reimagine their strategy to seek restitution for unsheltered people in a time when contact is restricted. Volunteers connected with claimants through a dedicated Google Voice line staffed Monday through Friday 9AM -5PM and answered in real time – an important aspect of collecting information from a group of people with limited access to phone and email. Posters and flyers were distributed at encampments and stuffed in grocery bag donations, and a common site and spreadsheet were created to tabulate information and share the best ways to complete forms and collect signatures from over 1,300 claimants.
EBCLC is proud to have played a part in elevating the voices of homeless people in our policy change work to protect a highly marginalized community. “In addition to compensating 1315 claimants for their losses, we hope that Caltrans honors their commitments and treats homeless people with dignity and respect,” said Candy Smallwood.