Homeless mentally disabled people in Los Angeles County are being intentionally denied the right to public assistance because the forms they must fill out to get such funds are too complicated, a lawsuit filed Thursday claims.
The suit maintains that the county, the Board of Supervisors and the director of the county Department of Public Social Services are violating state and federal law by not providing basic assistance to such applicants, whose limited mental capacities render them incapable of successfully applying for aid.
Applicants for county General Relief funds must now fill out 25 forms, visit up to nine different locations and be subject to many interviews, all of which serve to discourage their financial aid requests, said Inner City Law Center attorney Nancy Mintie.
The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of seven public legal foundations on behalf of two indigent mentally disabled men and all other similarly impaired individuals. The remedies sought in the suit include a reduction in the number of application forms, simplification of remaining forms, the hiring of mental health professionals to make early evaluations on applicants, the granting of special help to mentally ill applicants and development of special outreach programs.
Mintie said the 8,000 to 10,000 mentally disabled homeless people in Los Angeles County are victims of the “callous indifference” shown by the conservative majority on the Board of Supervisors to the special problems faced by these people.
“It’s no mere oversight by the county,” Mintie said. “It was designed to be exclusionary.”
The suit’s allegations were denied by a spokesman for Supervisor Deane Dana, one of the three conservatives on the board.
”. . . The suit is just a continuation of the accusations they’ve made at the board in previous meetings,” Dana aide Dennis Morefield said. “They seem to forget the board passed an $8.2-million program for the mentally ill homeless just a few months ago.”
Supervisors Pete Schabarum and Mike Antonovich, the other two conservative supervisors, declined comment.
Supervisor Ed Edelman, a longtime political supporter of the homeless mentally ill, said Thursday that he was not surprised that a lawsuit had been filed.
“We’ve known for some time that the General Relief form is a difficult form to fill out,” Edelman said, adding that his efforts to change and simplify the paper work had met with resistance from other supervisors.
The two homeless mentally disabled men in whose names the suit was filed are Robert Rensch, 22, and Jose Garcia, 33, both of Los Angeles. The suit was joined by Mollie Garcia, director of the Los Angeles Men’s Place, a service center for mentally disabled homeless men.
At a Superior Court hearing April 25, the plaintiffs will ask for a preliminary injunction halting the county’s allegedly discriminatory application practices.
Also joining the lawsuit were the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Law in the Public Interest, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Mental Health Advocacy Services Inc., Protection and Advocacy Inc., and the Western Center on Law and Poverty Inc.