Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part series.
The Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against City Hall and the Santa Monica Police Department for violating the constitutional rights of chronically homeless people by arresting and harassing them.
The ACLU staged a press event announcing its ill-advised complaint on City Hall’s steps straight out of the “Gloria Allred School of Law and Trial by Publicity.”
Their complaint — which asks for an injunction against these and other practices, a jury trial, legal fees and expenses — was made on behalf of a half-dozen plaintiffs and claims the SMPD is waging a war against poor persons and “operating a deportation program” by driving them out of the community to Venice or downtown Los Angeles, according to ACLU legal director Mark D. Rosenbaum.
However, The ACLU’s complaint is riddled with factual errors, tortured reasoning and faulty conclusions. References to “a cap on funding” and “failure to significantly increase funding for homeless services” aren’t true. It mentions arrests for “loitering,” but there are no “loitering” statutes on Santa Monica’s books.
Charging police with “targeting homeless and disabled, harassing them and subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishment” is bizarre and off base. Maybe, it’s because the ACLU and its pro-bono legal firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, founded by the legendary attorney/financier Charles Munger, just parroted complaints from alleged homeless victims and disgruntled homeless services case workers and failed to research City Hall’s or the SMPD’s side of the issue.
Despite doing far more to end homelessness than virtually any other governmental agency in the country, the ACLU says Santa Monica doesn’t do enough. Julie Rusk, City Hall’s human services manager reacted by saying, “Santa Monica is at the forefront of developing solutions that are effective, compassionate and are about getting people off the streets so their homelessness is ended.”
Rusk states there are more than 400 shelter beds in Santa Monica including temporary places for people to stay. “If every community in the county contributed 400 shelter beds and the resources Santa Monica expends there would no longer be a homeless problem in Los Angeles County.”
Santa Monica supports 20 programs administered by eight homeless providers plus another five other agencies with sizable homeless clienteles. These efforts cost City Hall and its taxpayers millions of dollars a year. City Hall is responsible for putting 1,500 people into housing over the last five years and has paid for hundreds of folks to return home throughout the country to be nurtured and cared for by family and friends.
New programs include a unique “Homeless Court” and an emphasis on permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Ours is one of few, if any, police departments that has retained its own dedicated in-house social services team — West Coast Care. Yet, Santa Monica, which spends $25 per capita annually on homeless services compared to Los Angeles’s 19 cents, is singled out and ambushed.
The ACLU’s complaint suggests that Santa Monica must provide even more shelter beds because, by latest counts, there are over 900 homeless in the city. But, adding more and more beds just draws more homeless and fuels an endless upward dependent spiral while relieving other communities of their obligation to help end homelessness.
Virtually all of Santa Monica’s homeless including ACLU’s plaintiffs are from somewhere else. Most have mental issues, criminal records, substance abuse problems and/or disabilities. They’re drawn here by climate, food handouts, promises of housing and a cornucopia of services. Some want to start a new life. Others want to milk the system — preferably without interference from law enforcement.
Despite its excellent reputation, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and the ACLU gunslingers are aiming at the wrong target. I think there’s another reason for the ACLU’s “shoot first, ask questions later” approach other than helping the homeless and that’s showing the world what big bullies they are.
The ACLU also recently filed complaints against municipalities such as Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach — cities that offer limited services. But, even bigger entities such as the much-criticized Veteran’s Administration with its lack of beds, housing and programs specifically for homeless vets aren’t in their sights nor are apparently any of L.A. County’s 84 municipalities that have no homeless beds or services.
By filing against Santa Monica, the ACLU and it’s pro-bono law firms have squandered their resources and the opportunity to go after much bigger fish and affect real change.
They’re also sending a message to municipalities everywhere: Avoid “homeless services.” You’ll spend fortunes and be inundated with complaints. Those wanting a free ride and carte blanche will criticize you, the Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness will call you “evil and unfriendly” and the ACLU will shoot at you with blazing lawsuits.
Coming in Part 2: Wasted resources and whistle blowers.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org