ACLU Again Challenges Laguna’s Policies Toward the Homeless

Meals at the shelter are provided by volunteers and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.
Meals at the shelter are provided by volunteers and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.

The ACLU Foundation and the law firm of Paul Hastings Thursday sued the city of Laguna Beach for discriminating against homeless individuals with disabilities.

As a result of an earlier ACLU lawsuit and settlement, Laguna Beach in 2009 opened the only municipal year-round shelter in Orange County, a 45-person overnight emergency facility initially located in the ACT V parking lot since relocated after a land purchase in Laguna Canyon near the dog park.

Currently, the city’s homelessness program is 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 law firm says in a statement.

“It is very disappointing to be a target of the ACLU given the city’s proven track record of being a leader in providing services to the homeless community,” City Manager John Pietig said in a statement.

The city spends $350,000 a year on the shelter known as the Alternative Sleeping Location, which provides individuals with air conditioning, heat, laundry facilities, showers, sleeping mats and blankets, storage, and van service to the facility from the downtown bus depot. Volunteers provide evening meals and bagged lunches.

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.

The law firm defines that as housing with wrap-around services such as mental health care and case management, appropriate for chronically homeless persons with disabilities.

Pietig said the city and the Friendship Shelter, whose staff manages the city shelter, recently agreed to fund a case worker to help connect homeless individuals with appropriate resource providers.



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