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ACLU again accuses Laguna Beach of targeting the homeless

ACLU again accuses Laguna Beach of targeting the homeless
A Laguna Beach police officerspeaks toa homeless man. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California accuses Laguna Beach of trying to push homeless people, particularly those with disabilities, out of the city.

The suit, filed Thursday on behalf of five disabled homeless people, claims that city officials took the earliest opportunity available under a previous legal settlement to enact laws targeting the homeless and ramped up enforcement to force them out of the city.

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Though Laguna Beach has a homeless shelter, it doesn't offer a full range of programs to assist the population and it has limited housing. Five to 15 people are turned away every night and have to find somewhere else to sleep, the ACLU says.

This isn't the first time the city has been sued over its treatment of the homeless -- a fact the ACLU says bolsters its argument in the current suit.

In 2008, the organization sued Laguna Beach, alleging that the city conducted "sweeps" targeting transients and criminalized homelessness. The city settled that lawsuit within three months and repealed laws that criminalized camping and sleeping in public places, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.

But once the life of that settlement expired, the ACLU suit says, Laguna Beach officials added a new law that had the same effect as the old one: criminalizing homelessness.

The city added a temporary homeless shelter, but it is loud and crowded -- making it difficult for people to sleep -- and it doesn't offer programs for the myriad mental and physical issues that the people who stay there have, the ACLU contends.

City Manager John Pietig defended Laguna Beach's track record on homelessness in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

The city's temporary housing shelter is the only year-round shelter and it has air conditioning, laundry, showers, meals, storage and transportation to a bus depot downtown, Pietig said. The city just added a case worker to help homeless individuals find resources.

"It is well known that no single public entity can solve the issues associated with homelessness, especially at the local level," the statement said. "It is very disappointing to be a target of the ACLU given the city's proven track record of being a leader in providing services to the homeless community."

The ACLU is seeking to elevate the case to a class-action lawsuit and lists five initial plaintiffs: Kenneth Glover, 46, an unemployed fisherman diagnosed with alcoholism and depression; David Sestini, 53, who has bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, alcoholism and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Douglas Frederes Jr., 35, an unemployed handyman with bipolar disorder; Jeffrey Aiken, 54, an Air Force veteran with a physical disability, depression and schizophrenia; and Katrina Aune, 35, a mother diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Aune's two children have permanent housing, the ACLU said.

The organization is asking for Laguna Beach to rescind the laws pertaining to homelessness and create a permanent homeless shelter with programs to help its residents.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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