The city has also adopted a plan to end homelessness, and one of its latest efforts is tallying the homeless population every six months. Those identified as most at risk of dying on the streets are put on a priority list for housing and other services, said Julie Rusk, a social services manager.
On a recent night, the outreach team found an 81-year-old woman who had been on the streets for at least 15 years, Rusk said. She's now living in a skilled nursing facility.
The ACLU's Rosenbaum said he won't argue that Santa Monica and the other cities have made genuine attempts to help vagrants. But that doesn't mean it's OK to let police harass those who remain on the streets, he said.
The ACLU has filed similar lawsuits in recent years. In 2007, Los Angeles settled its case by agreeing to find shelter for some of the estimated 48,000 homeless people spread across the county. Since July 2007, housing for 237 formerly homeless people has been built and 1,011 more units are in the pipeline, said Kim Thompson of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
The ACLU has also sued Fresno and San Diego, alleging that they destroyed possessions of homeless people during sweeps of encampments. In Fresno, city officials were accused of confiscating blankets, bicycles, medications, legal documents and, in one case, a woman's wheelchair.
Fresno agreed in 2008 to halt the practice and paid $2.3 million in the class-action settlement. The San Diego case is ongoing.
Times staff writer Tony Barboza contributed to this report.