Suit Says Laws Are Unfair to Homeless : Santa Monica: Court action alleges that 14 city ordinances discriminate by restricting access to public facilities.


A group of homeless people has filed a lawsuit against Santa Monica, claiming that the city enacted a series of discriminatory laws against the homeless.

In a class-action suit, the plaintiffs say the city enforces 14 ordinances that, in effect, criminalize homelessness. The 41-page federal lawsuit, filed Feb. 23, contends that the laws, enacted over the past three years, restrict the access of homeless people to municipal parks and public bathrooms, and areas where they could panhandle, take part in feeding programs and store their possessions.

The laws "constitute a concerted effort and plan to banish homeless and indigent persons from engaging in life-sustaining activities within the city," Daniel Johnson, the attorney for the seven Santa Monica homeless people, wrote in the complaint.

Santa Monica City Atty. Marsha Jones Moutrie said the city had not yet been served with the suit. Mayor Paul Rosenstein declined to comment on the complaint but called the city laws cited in the case "tough but humane." He also pointed out that the city funds 17 programs to help Santa Monica's homeless get off the streets.

According to the suit, an anti-solicitation law adopted last year violates homeless people's 1st Amendment rights. Under the 1994 measure, the city prohibits panhandling within 50 feet of an automated teller machine, at bus stops, in lines of five or more people, in parking lots and within three feet of any person.

The plaintiffs also allege that the city denies homeless people equal protection under the law, selectively enforcing ordinances in a way that restricts their freedom of movement. The suit contends, for instance, that the homeless are prohibited from leaving their possessions in public places and from carrying their property into public libraries.

The city has also engaged in unreasonable searches and seizures and taking without just compensation, the suit charges. The complaint states that three of the plaintiffs, Winston Reid, Donna Mendez and Bonny Ann Dodd, have had their possessions confiscated and thrown away by authorities.

The other plaintiffs are Len Doucette, publisher of a newspaper focusing on homeless issues, and three people who chose to remain anonymous in the suit.

In their suit, the homeless ask that the court find the city's laws unconstitutional. The only monetary compensation being sought is by the three plaintiffs whose property was taken by police, Johnson said.

"Primarily this case is important because the homeless have been treated with increasing hostility and suspicion by the population in general," Johnson said. "The solution (to the homeless problem) does not lie in passing laws in an unconstitutional fashion."

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