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Judge won’t block Laguna’s homeless laws while ACLU lawsuit is pending

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A man sleeps on the curb at Mountain Road and South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach in 2014. 

(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Laguna Beach officials scored a small victory last week in a federal lawsuit filed in August by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California that claims the city discriminates against homeless people with disabilities.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford denied the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have prevented the city from enforcing laws that prohibit lodging on public property while the suit is pending, according to a news release issued Friday.

The ACLU contends that Laguna officials must provide supportive housing with services such as mental healthcare and case management.

It also challenges the citing of disabled homeless people for sleeping in public when the emergency shelter in Laguna Canyon — the Alternative Sleeping Location — is full.

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“The city is very pleased with the ruling and will continue to vigorously defend itself through the remainder of the legal process,” Mayor Steve Dicterow said in the news release. “The city shares Judge Guilford’s recognition of the problems associated with homelessness, and we remain committed to the provision of robust programs and services to support and assist our homeless residents in need.”

Last August, ACLU attorneys sued on behalf of five chronically homeless people with mental and physical disabilities, including a veteran. They were diagnosed with conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia, according to court records.

A representative from Paul Hastings LLP, the firm working on behalf of the ACLU, did not return a call seeking comment on Guilford’s motion. The firm listed two of the five homeless people as plaintiffs in the latest motion since three of them obtained housing, court documents said.

Laguna Beach is the only city in Orange County that funds and operates a year-round overnight shelter.Its Alternative Sleeping Location, or ASL, provides space for 45 beds, plus meals, laundry, showers and van service to Laguna’s bus depot.

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Officials from the Laguna Beach-based nonprofit Friendship Shelter operate the facility under contract with the city, which gives priority to Laguna Beach locals who meet residency criteria. If someone does not meet the criteria, they enter a lottery to get a bed.

The homeless people in this case claim the ASL has too little capacity, the facility’s “environment is intolerable to disabled persons, and that the ASL improperly bans persons whose disabilities make it difficult to conform to the rules,” court documents said.

In his written opinion, Guilford said the homeless did not provide factual evidence supporting their claim that the ASL doesn’t have enough room for the number of homeless in Laguna Beach.

Nor, Guilford said, did they “show how enjoining the city from enforcing the anti-camping provisions would make the ASL more accessible or appropriate for disabled persons.”

Since 2009, the city has spent $350,000 a year to operate its emergency shelter and additional programs, including a community outreach officer and a case worker to help reunite people with their families and connect them with other resources.

The ACLU and the city have been at odds before.

In 2008, the ACLU challenged a Laguna Beach ordinance that allowed police to ticket homeless people who had no other place to sleep. That case was quickly settled, with the city agreeing to repeal sections of the ordinance for a time that prohibited sleeping or camping in public places.

The city established the ASL in 2009 after the lawsuit.

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Police issued 160 misdemeanor citations for illegal camping in 2011, and 225 citations between January 2012 and June 2014, court records said.

 


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