For most residents of Santa Monica, news that the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against City Hall, claiming it is violating the rights of the homeless by arresting them for sleeping in public spaces, came as a shock given the many efforts made to address this complex issue.
To say that Santa Monica is criminalizing homelessness by citing people for sleeping on the beach or in doorways and alleys when there are not enough shelter beds in Los Angeles County is absurd. And here’s why:
Very few communities have committed themselves to the level of service that Santa Monica has, not only when it comes to residents, but to the down-and-out. We have partnered with social service agencies such as OPCC, Step Up on Second and the St. Joseph Center to provide scores of shelter beds and permanent housing to get people off the streets. City Hall hired a homeless liaison to reach out to cities in the region so that everyone is doing their fair share to help those in need. Santa Monica worked with allies in the county to create a homeless court so those who are cited for sleeping, drinking or urinating/defecating in public — heads up ACLU — can have their records wiped clean after completing treatment programs or committing to case management.
Then there is the police department, the target of ACLU’s misguided attempt to pressure lawmakers to set aside funding for more shelters. The SMPD is unique in its approach to homelessness. Not only does the department collaborate with drug and alcohol treatment agencies such as CLARE, it also hired an outreach specialist to reconnect homeless individuals with their families. City Hall even pays for bus fare.
Santa Monica should not be the target. We are going above and beyond to address homelessness. We should instead be partners with the ACLU and other agencies in pressuring all levels of government to come together and find a solution.
Furthermore, this lawsuit will take City Hall’s focus away from the real work that needs to be done and could jeopardize a plan that seems to be working, which is identifying the most vulnerable on our streets and getting them into permanent housing immediately so that they can have a foundation to rebuild their lives.
Mark Rosenbaum of the ACLU is grandstanding. He must think it is OK for cities to just let people sleep wherever they please, regardless of how dangerous it is. It’s easy to say people shouldn’t be cited for not having a home, but it is difficult to actually find that person a place of their own, something Santa Monica is doing daily. Rosenbaum likes to say the police department is harassing mentally ill or disabled people. But what about those who are dangerous, those just released from jail or sex offenders who are trying to hide from the law? Connecting with people for minor offenses such as camping leads to many arrests for other serious crimes. You can’t ignore that, Rosenbaum.
It’s not right that people have to sleep on the streets, but don’t punish those who are trying their best to make a difference. Instead we all need to work together for a solution. And if it is proven that any service provider in Santa Monica helped bring this lawsuit, which the ACLU said did occur, they should be stripped of all city funding immediately. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.