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Lawsuit over Santa Monica's treatment of homeless is dismissed

The suit, filed by the ACLU and a law firm, said police routinely violated homeless people's constitutional rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act by harassing and arresting them.

May 30, 2010|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

A federal judge in Los Angeles has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against Santa Monica over the city's treatment of homeless people.

U.S. District Judge George H. Wu dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning the ACLU would be prohibited from bringing any future actions on the same claim.

Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould said a "resolution agreement" would soon be considered by the City Council, but he declined to discuss details.

"The resolution agreement … will be available on the evening of June 8," Gould said. Under the Brown Act, the state's open-meetings law, the City Council must approve the resolution and report it publicly before city officials are free to discuss it, he said.

Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver said it was "shocking and hypocritical" for the ACLU and its partner in the suit, the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, to waste their resources on such an effort. He urged them to turn their attention to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which he said has exacerbated the homeless problem by not adequately caring for the many veterans living on the streets.

In July 2009, the ACLU of Southern California filed a civil rights suit against Santa Monica, saying police routinely violated homeless people's constitutional rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act by harassing and arresting them even as the city failed to provide sufficient shelter beds.

Mark Rosenbaum, the organization's legal director, said he could not comment because the parties had agreed to keep details confidential until June 8.

When the suit was filed, however, he said: "Santa Monica is effectively running a deportation program for the homeless." The suit was similar to previous legal challenges against Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara that Rosenbaum said had resulted in policy changes that have helped the homeless.

Santa Monica immediately fired back, defending its efforts to get homeless people off the streets and into housing with social services.

A city count of homeless people in January showed that the number had declined for the second consecutive year. There were 742 homeless people counted from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Jan. 29. Those included 264 on the streets; 423 in institutions such as shelters, hospitals, jails and hotels; and 53 living in cars, vans, RVs or encampments.

The number marked a 19% reduction from the previous year, when 915 were counted.

In its 20-page complaint, filed jointly with the law firm on behalf of six people, the ACLU alleged that "Santa Monica should be a kind of oasis for those forced to live and sleep outdoors — a place where the climate and open spaces make homelessness somewhat less horrible than it would be most other places." Rather, it said, the city "has made it a crime to be homeless."

The complaint said police routinely prodded chronically homeless people to move on to other places, such as Venice, Culver City or downtown L.A.'s skid row.

A high percentage of those sleeping on the streets have mental illnesses or addictions.

The complaint mentions a 56-year-old woman with paranoid schizophrenia who said she fears that spaceships are trying to kill her. After being jailed three times, and hearing her fears scoffed at by police, she relocated to Venice.

martha.groves@latimes.com

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