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November 7, 2018

The agreement orders city homelessness facilities be accessible to people with disabilities

SANTA ANA — The U.S. District Court in Santa Ana has finalized a groundbreaking agreement that will make homelessness facilities in Laguna Beach accessible to people with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act).

The court's approval resolves Glover v. Laguna Beach, a 2015 class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm Paul Hastings LLP on behalf of people with disabilities experiencing homelessness in that beachside city. The lawsuit argued that the city harassed and incarcerated people with disabilities who were forced to sleep outside because of the inaccessibility of the city’s emergency shelter.

"This settlement creates a system for ensuring that people experiencing homelessness who also have disabilities can benefit from Laguna Beach's homelessness program," said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel and Manheim Family attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU SoCal. "This means people will no longer be shut out of services on account of their disabilities."

The settlement sets up a procedure for individuals to request reasonable modifications to the city's shelter based on a disability. If staff at the shelter denies a request, the decision can be appealed to a city employee independent of the homelessness program and trained on the ADA and Rehab Act. Also, all shelter staff will receive a broad range of training on how to best serve those with disabilities. The agreement additionally calls for the development of some innovative services, such as a pilot program to provide separate sleeping spaces for persons who, because of a disabling condition, cannot sleep in crowded, congregate settings. And it provides for specific accommodations, such as wheelchair lifts in the city's shuttle van and cots instead of floor mats for people who need them.

The settlement also obligates the city to train its police officers on proper interaction with people experiencing homelessness.

"People who are homeless are among the most vulnerable members of our community and unfortunately they are often the least able to access our system of care," said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst and advocate at the ACLU SoCal. "This settlement will ensure that even those with the most serious disabling conditions can access potentially life-saving homelessness services."

Under the settlement, the federal court will retain jurisdiction over the case in order to enforce the agreement.

The court's order came in the wake of a new ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an unrelated case (Martin v. City of Boise), ruling that unless a municipality has enough realistically available and accessible indoor places to sleep for all who need them, law enforcement cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping or camping outdoors on public property.

"Any expansion of the shelter system must be safe and sanitary and cannot discriminate against people with disabilities," said Katherine Murray, of counsel at Paul Hastings LLP. "Cities and counties should look to the Glover settlement as a model for how to provide emergency shelter and other services in a manner consistent with the law."

The settlement requires the Laguna Beach City Council to issue a formal resolution endorsing a county-wide approach to homelessness that prioritizes a "housing first" strategy and the implementation of the county's previous 10-year plan to end homelessness. Providing housing, along with wrap-around services when required, has been shown to be far more effective and more affordable than any other response.

"No matter how accessible emergency shelters are, people living in them are still homeless and need housing," said Ian Kysel, an ACLU SoCal staff attorney. "We will be watching closely as Laguna Beach and other municipalities respond to this crisis and the court’s order and continue our efforts to promote housing as a human right."

Read the court order: