Laguna Beach, CA – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the law firm of Paul Hastings LLP today sued the City of Laguna Beach for discriminating against homeless individuals with disabilities.
Currently, the city’s homelessness program provides only limited emergency shelter – often inaccessible to persons with disabilities – yet mandates strict enforcement of laws prohibiting sleeping in public, even against those who cannot access this shelter.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of five chronically homeless individuals with mental and physical disabilities, including a homeless veteran, seeks to require Laguna Beach officials to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by providing needed supportive housing – that is housing with wrap-around services such as mental health care and case management – appropriate for chronically homeless persons with disabilities.
“Laguna Beach is best known as an affluent, idyllic seaside art colony, but a small, yet significant portion of the population suffers from mental and physical disabilities that leave them unable to access housing,” said Kristopher Wood, an attorney with Paul Hastings. “The City refuses to provide permanent supportive housing that would alleviate the problem; yet continues to cite physically and mentally disabled homeless individuals who have no other option for sleeping outdoors.  That conduct is simply illegal under the ADA and the Constitution.”
The lawsuit also challenges the city’s practice of ticketing disabled, homeless persons who cannot access this shelter for sleeping or lodging in public as cruel and unusual punishment.
“The city has adopted a strategy that punishes homeless individuals with disabilities,” said Heather Maria Johnson, a staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal’s Dignity for All Project. “Unfortunately, the tactics are not new and what is happening in Laguna Beach is all too commonplace. But the difference in this case is the city has chosen to ignore the issue despite being put on notice years ago.”
In 2008, the ACLU SoCal challenged a Laguna Beach ordinance that allowed police to ticket homeless individuals who had no other place to sleep. That case was quickly settled, with the city agreeing to repeal sections of the ordinance that prohibited sleeping or camping in public places. Following that lawsuit, a shelter was established.
However, after the end of the settlement period, Laguna Beach officials reinstated the old prohibitions and police resumed ticketing homeless individuals, the vast majority of whom have mental or physical disabilities and often have difficulty accessing the shelter. The current lawsuit challenges the city’s new strategy.
“With a population of just over 23,000, Laguna Beach is a very welcoming place for some.” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of ACLU SoCal’s Orange County office.  “But if you happen to be a homeless resident with disabilities, the city makes sure to let you know you are not welcome. This is a city with the resources to address the issue as required by law.”
Read the complaint here.