Egregious policies include "lock-in/shut-out" policy essentially trapping shelters residents
PASADENA - In a victory for unhoused people, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision this week allowing unhoused residents and advocates in Orange County to continue their case in Utzman v. Orange County that challenges discriminatory policies and unsafe conditions in county shelters.
“Our case is an important step to make Orange County treat persons who are unhoused as actual humans,” said Patrick Bui, who is formerly unhoused and one of the plaintiffs in the case.
In December 2020, eight currently and formerly unhoused residents and Oma’s Angel Foundation, a charitable organization, filed suit against the county, the City of Anaheim, three shelter providers, and a security company for a slew of violations in county shelters including sexual harassment, dangerous and unsanitary conditions, and an egregious "lock-in/shut-out" policy that blocks residents from entering and leaving shelters independently on foot or bike.
Since then, in 2021, the county requested a stay in the case on procedural grounds, and in 2022, a federal judge ordered the case to be heard in federal court. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit overturned the decision, remanding all claims to state court.
“The Ninth Circuit affirmed that unhoused residents challenging violations of the California Constitution and state laws have the right to have those claims heard in state court,” said Adina Stohl, attorney with Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
“All people, regardless of housing status, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to live full and free lives in their communities," said Minouche Kandel, senior staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. "The policies we are challenging segregate unhoused community members, and like with all forms of unequal treatment, the lock-in policy is deeply denigrating.”
Orange County is unique in imposing a lock-in/shut-out policy on shelter residents. The policy limits shelter access to shuttles run by the shelter itself or by car, preventing residents without their own car from entering or leaving independently and inhibiting their access to jobs, medical appointments, religious services, and other needed activities. Shelter residents who try to walk in or out risk eviction.
The Ninth Circuit order now allows attorneys to continue the case and challenge the lock-in policy.
“I am grateful that our case can continue as we are fighting for the basic rights of human beings,” said Heidi Zimmermann, president of Oma’s Angel Foundation.
Learn more about the case: https://www.aclusocal.org/en/cases/orange-county-shelters