Accord settles long standing lawsuit over homelessness facilities and programs
SANTA ANA — Under a groundbreaking settlement, the City of Laguna Beach has agreed to provide improvements to its homeless programs and facilities, ensuring that people with disabilities will have access in accord with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.
The settlement, filed today in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, resolves a 2015 class action lawsuit by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and law firm Paul Hastings LLP on behalf of people with disabilities who are homeless in Laguna Beach.
"The agreement makes it mandatory for people who are homeless to be informed of their rights," said Ian Kysel, an ACLU SoCal staff attorney. "It ensures that people can request accommodations to meet their needs, and that decisions about those requests are rendered in a timely fashion and in writing."
Under the settlement, if shelter staff denies a request for an accommodation, the decision can be appealed to a city employee independent of the shelter who is a neutral expert on the ADA and RA.
The agreement also calls for the development of innovative services, such as a pilot program providing separate sleeping spaces for persons who, because of a disabling condition, find it difficult to cope with crowded, congregate living. And it provides for accommodations such as wheelchair lifts in the city's shuttle van and cots instead of floor mats for people who need them.
"All too often, homeless shelters are woefully out of compliance with the ADA and RA," said Eve Garrow, a policy analyst and advocate for the ACLU SoCal. "The successful resolution of this lawsuit sends the message to other municipalities that they are accountable to their most economically disadvantaged and disabled residents. It provides a model that communities should emulate to ensure that their homeless services are meeting the needs of people with disabilities."
People with mental health issues are especially in need of facilities that take their needs into account. In too many instances, staff members have forced people with mental disabilities onto the streets when they are symptomatic.
"This settlement is about ensuring that our most vulnerable and disabled community members have equal access to basic resources, like shelter from the elements, which every person needs for survival," said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel/Manheim Family attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU SoCal. "Moreover, they are entitled to such access under the law."
Under the agreement, the City of Laguna Beach will also pass a resolution urging Orange County supervisors to fund and implement their "housing first" plan. That plan embraces a proven strategy to end homelessness by providing people with affordable housing.
"We are pleased to have reached an agreement that will improve the lives of people using Laguna Beach's homeless services," said David Hernand, partner at the Paul Hastings law firm. "However, the end-game is really about addressing this crisis on a regional, Orange County-wide level, and with solutions that combine affordable housing and wrap-around services.
"We hope that Orange County supervisors do their part by committing much-needed resources to a 'housing first' model."
Read the settlement here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_glover_20180606_settlement.pdf