Legal Team Agrees to Drop Lawsuit against Santa Monica after City's Treatment of Homeless Changes

June 9, 2010 12:00 am

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Because the city of Santa Monica has stopped using vaguely worded camping ordinances as a pretext to round up homeless people, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP have agreed to drop a lawsuit against the city over its homeless policies, the legal team announced today. Among the provisions of the settlement are that no one should be forced out of his or her community simply for being homeless; that all communities need to provide a reasonable amount of shelter beds and serves; and public safety personnel must be adequately trained to interact with homeless people.

“As a result of Santa Monica’s de facto policy of criminalizing the mentally ill homeless, we filed suit — similar to our successful lawsuits in Los Angeles, Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara — in an attempt to get the city to direct its efforts to eliminate homelessness, not the homeless,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU/SC. “Almost immediately after our filing against Santa Monica, we documented that the practice of using the city’s vague anti-camping ordinance to harass the homeless had ceased, and that therefore the objective of the litigation had been met.

“We continue to monitor the city’s response, and are gratified that this primary tool of enforcement has, for all intents and purposes, ended. We are pleased to announce public settlement of the case, and commend the city of Santa Monica for its decision to no longer use its ordinance to criminalize poverty and mental illness,” Rosenbaum said.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2009, cited egregious examples of how Santa Monica used its police officers to harass and intimidate homeless residents. Among them was the case of a paranoid schizophrenic woman who reported seeing flying saucers. Santa Monica police arrested and jailed her multiple times for sleeping on the sidewalk when she had no home. Police also arrested a recovering addict for sleeping outside a shelter that didn’t have sufficient available beds that night. The man carried with him a bible, an Alcoholics Anonymous book and work clothes. He begged officers to release him so as to not endanger his job, but he was arrested and released two days later. He subsequently lost his employment.

“The city said on its own website that it gave chronically homeless people a stark, unconstitutional choice: get into treatment facilities or leave,” said Jonathan Altman, an attorney with Munger, Tolles. “We urge the city to focus its efforts away from criminalization and toward constructive supportive services aimed at eliminating homelessness, not the homeless.”

As part of the agreement, the ACLU/SC and Munger, Tolles released a joint statement with the city of Santa Monica, which outlines core principles that the ACLU/SC believes are fundamental to protecting the basic rights of the chronically homeless, many of whom suffer mental or physical disabilities and have been homeless repeatedly or for a sustained period of time.

A key portion of the settlement agreement reads as follows:

In agreeing that the lawsuit should end, the parties confirm their ongoing commitment to the following mutual principles in addressing homeless issues:

Joint Statement of Mutual Principles:

A. All communities need to provide a reasonable amount of shelter beds and services;
B. No one should be forced out of any community because he or she is homeless;
C. Merely sleeping and homeless status should not be crimes anywhere;
D. Communities need to engage in outreach to their most vulnerable; and,
E. Public safety personnel must be adequately trained.

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