ACLU Sues Laguna Beach Over Treatment of Homeless People

Nearly a decade after ACLU Foundation of Southern California sued Laguna Beach over the city’s and police department’s handling of homeless residents, the organization has again sued the city for failing to provide adequate facilities for  homeless people with mental and physical disabilities.

In a Thursday press release, ACLU SoCal said it seeks to require city officials to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by providing supported housing appropriate for the chronically homeless with disabilities. Following is the press release and a link to the suit:

Laguna Beach, CA – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the law firm of Paul Hastings LLP today sued the City of Laguna Beach for discriminating against homeless individuals with disabilities.
Currently, the city’s homelessness program provides only limited emergency shelter – often inaccessible to persons with disabilities – yet mandates strict enforcement of laws prohibiting sleeping in public, even against those who cannot access this shelter. 
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of five chronically homeless individuals with mental and physical disabilities, including a homeless veteran, seeks to require Laguna Beach officials to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by providing needed supportive housing – that is housing with wrap-around services such as mental health care and case management – appropriate for chronically homeless persons with disabilities.   
“Laguna Beach is best known as an affluent, idyllic seaside art colony, but a small, yet significant portion of the population suffers from mental and physical disabilities that leave them unable to access housing,” said Kristopher Wood, an attorney with Paul Hastings. “The City refuses to provide permanent supportive housing that would alleviate the problem; yet continues to cite physically and mentally disabled homeless individuals who have no other option for sleeping outdoors.  That conduct is simply illegal under the ADA and the Constitution.”

The lawsuit also challenges the city’s practice of ticketing disabled, homeless persons who cannot access this shelter for sleeping or lodging in public as cruel and unusual punishment. 
“The city has adopted a strategy that punishes homeless individuals with disabilities,” said Heather Maria Johnson, a staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal’s Dignity for All Project. “Unfortunately, the tactics are not new and what is happening in Laguna Beach is all too commonplace. But the difference in this case is the city has chosen to ignore the issue despite being put on notice years ago.”

In 2008, the ACLU SoCal challenged a Laguna Beach ordinance that allowed police to ticket homeless individuals who had no other place to sleep. That case was quickly settled, with the city agreeing to repeal sections of the ordinance that prohibited sleeping or camping in public places. Following that lawsuit, a shelter was established.
However, after the end of the settlement period, Laguna Beach officials reinstated the old prohibitions and police resumed ticketing homeless individuals, the vast majority of whom have mental or physical disabilities and often have difficulty accessing the shelter. The current lawsuit challenges the city’s new strategy. 
“With a population of just over 23,000, Laguna Beach is a very welcoming place for some.” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of ACLU SoCal’s Orange County office.  “But if you happen to be a homeless resident with disabilities, the city makes sure to let you know you are not welcome. This is a city with the resources to address the issue as required by law.”

Read the lawsuit here: Glover v Laguna

  • Stoned Green Stoner

    I was Just a victim of the Laguna Beach police department lastnight I got stop searched humiliated and treaded like trash all because it was very parent that I live in my truck
    If I look like I lived in a house that would have never happened it’s not my fault I’m in this possition it’s just bad luck and people in my position shouldn’t be treated like garbage Just because of our bad luck and dispasition

  • Ed Romero

    They should not be suing the City of Laguna Beach, they should be suing the Ronald Reagan Estate. It was Ronald Reagan that closed all the facilities that helped these people, not the City of Laguna Beach. Ronald Reagan eliminated all the programs these these people needed. It’s not their fault that they are mentally ill or are handicapped.

    • lagoona

      Kinda late for all that, Ed. Let’s get on with what has been proven to work – supportive housing for homeless people.

  • Roger Butow

    Becky: The limited housing shelter we have now is about 3 miles up Laguna Canyon. The City uses the Canyon as a “dumping ground,” it did the same thing with our day laborer’s site. At one time they hung around 3 convenience stores sprinkled throughout the City, all close to PCH.

    Then the City consolidated them, created a site right the across the road from Ganahl Lumber. Which SOUNDS like a good idea except there’s no signal to control traffic. It’s where the Canyon Road bottlenecks (egress narrows from 2 lanes to one), and many times potential clients pull illegal U-turns, laborers run the gauntlet (cross the road at their own jeopardy and create potential traffic accidents).
    Coming into town, it’s the opposite: One lane opening to 2, so people speed up. A really dumb, dangerous, public nuisance location.
    The present temporary shelter neighborhood is either THE highest or one of the top 3 crime areas in Laguna. Rural, tranquil neighborhoods end up with the overflow camping, urinating and defecating in their yards.
    Neighbors constantly complain, response time can be 20 minutes.
    Instead of sheltering them nearer the central district, near critical support services like the downtown community clinic, bus station, markets, etc., they end up as nomads walking one of THE most dangerous stretches of highway in the OC.
    We just lost one a week or so ago, a father staying there, hit by a driver who wasn’t under the influence of anything.
    Which is another point.: You have mentally ill, erratic behaving nomads, many times high on something, wandering around remote residential neighborhoods. If police, fire and/or paramedics are needed, the response time is a lot—In high season, during commuters hours and just about every weekend its gridlock.
    And contrary to what many believe, these are NOT just a pack of losers sponging off the dole.
    As a Vietnam-era Marine, I’ve researched the subject: A lot of our homeless vagabonds are veterans who just never came home mentally, and never really adjusted to their former civilian life.
    Yellow ribbons and “Thank You For Your Service” are swell, but as recent revelations about the useless wars overseas (like Iraq) and pitiful VA services have shown, we’re disposable goods not just in combat but once we’ve come home.

  • Becky Newman

    It would be helpful to have specific examples of or further explanation of: ”limited emergency shelter – often inaccessible to persons with disabilities” and “often have difficulty accessing the shelter”.

    • lagoona

      I can help here, Becky: If you are homeless, have a disability like schizophrenia and come to the ASL for a night’s shelter to avoid running afoul of the law by sleeping outdoors, and you can’t prove with paperwork that you once lived in Laguna Beach or have a mother, father, sister or brother who live there, you get a number in the lottery system to compete for the 45 “beds” (the euphemistic term the City uses for “foam mats on the floor”). If all 45 “beds” are spoken for, you are SOL and have to hit the road. The city will offer you a bus ticket to Fullerton, which is going to be closed by the time you get there.

      • Becky Newman

        Thank you, Roger and lagoona – this is the sort of information I wanted. Sadly, many services for the poor and homeless have these sorts of specific limitations (food pantries that are open only once or twice a month and serve a certain geographic area are another example) – but it’s helpful to have these kinds of details in order to write letters to the paper, advocate for better services, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

        • lagoona

          Becky, please do write some LTEs – the trolls come out of the woodwork on this topic and make ignorant remarks, knowing little about the nature of homeless ness and long saga of what has gone down in Laguna Beach over the past 10 years. A solution was suggested by the Task Force many years ago, but the city has chosen to ignore it, instead spending far more on police enforcement, ER visits, fire and police emergency calls, jail time, etc. than it would on a multi-unit building where chronically homeless people would be able to live and get help they need, as long as they need it. This sounds expensive but it actually isn’t. It costs about $42,000 a year for a homeless person to remain on the street vs. about $27,000 for housing and services. There is abundant data on this – just Google “homeless housing.” Thanks for caring.