FORT LAUDERDALE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Southern Legal Counsel filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of 16 homeless people who were among those kicked out of Stranahan Park last month.
The ACLU said they are suing the city for "unlawful seizure, confiscation and destruction of property of homeless individuals living in Fort Lauderdale."
City crews showed up at the park May 19 after the city was cited by the Florida Department of Health for unsanitary conditions at the park.
"At that moment, we wasn't considered to be human beings," Robert Smart, who is homeless, said.
Homeless people at the park told Local 10 News that they had no notice to leave and garbage trucks were sent out to collect whatever debris and property people couldn't carry off with them.
Smart, 48, said he has been living at Stranahan Park since February. He said his bags with all of his belongings are now gone.
"I had a Social Security card -- don't have that no more. I had a voter registration card -- don't have that no more. I had a birth certificate," Smart said.
Many homeless people said they were away from the park when their belongings were seized and thrown out.
"I lost a pair of Puma shoes, I lost my Social Security card, my birth certificate, name change decree paperwork," another man, Raymond Smith, said.
According to a complaint record from the Health Department, an inspector responded to the park after receiving a complaint about rats in the area and saw homeless men and women camping at the park.
The inspector also noted "tarps, boxes, trash bags, garbage and several other material accumulation creating harborage for rats."
The Health Department gave the city until June 16 to rectify the situation.
The federal lawsuit claims that the city violated the plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendments and demands a jury trial.
"The message is what you're doing is illegal and unconstitutional, and we want it to stop, and we want the laws off the books," Alexander Johnson of the ACLU said.
"I'm hoping that the city does the right thing and just settles, so we can just move on with our lives," Smith said.
Click here to view a copy of the lawsuit.