Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a two-part series.
The Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union recently announced the filing of 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” at a recent City Hall press conference.
One wonders what’s going on in the “pro-bono” world of homeless advocacy when big fish are ignored by the ACLU and entities like Santa Monica, who do more than their part, are subject to groundless litigation.
For example, the Veteran’s Administration has lagged in providing shelter beds, housing and other services for homeless vets for years.
Los Angeles based Public Counsel, the largest pro-bono public interest law firm in the world, is currently working with the VA and community partners to resolve problems encountered by homeless vets such as helping vets more easily access HUD VASH Vouchers with case management support and overcome other bureaucratic barriers to receiving the benefits they desperately need.
According to Paul Freese, director of Litigation and Advocacy, Public Counsel recently launched the Center for Veterans Advancement (CVA) to train pro-bono advocates nationally to advocate on behalf of veterans and ensure that they receive the services to which they are entitled in a just and timely manner.
The CVA also works with New Directions and the VA to promote the Veteran’s Court model nationally where treatment and supportive housing are provided as alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders who violate the law.
Moreover, CVA, New Directions and the VA are making progress in expanding the availability of affordable housing for homeless veterans and those returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Freese says, “Thanks to CVA Director Rick Little’s magnificent leadership and team, this project is off to a highly successful start and promises to assist thousands of veterans here and across the country in avoiding homelessness.
“While litigation is always an option, we strive to work with the system and resolve issues constructively before suing as litigation has a divisive effect, and homelessness is an issue that needs our collective unified attention and commitment.”
Here’s where advocacy and smart policy will change thousands of lives for the better. Public Counsel works toward big results, not cheap headlines.
At the press event, ACLU attorney Jennifer Pasquerella told reporters, “Prior to this we were speaking to numerous service providers. That’s how we were introduced to this problem … . The police abuse was reported to us by people who are active in Santa Monica or who are in city government.”
City Hall’s human services manager, Julie Rusk, said she and the rest of the city staff were totally blindsided. The thought of someone going outside and not coming to her or city staff first with complaints was troubling, she said.
After receiving tips from numerous highly-placed sources that complaints to the ACLU originated from OPCC, the city’s largest, city-funded homeless services provider, I e-mailed its executive director, John Maceri, about reports of whistle-blowing. He responded: “I don’t know who initiated contact with the ACLU. There are a lot of people who have connections to the ACLU, and I imagine they could have heard from more than one person. I was surprised by the lawsuit, but not by the allegations.
“I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the enforcement actions from our clients, staff and members of the community,” Maceri added. “The last few times I’ve been at our Access Center, clients have come up to me to talk about how they feel they are being constantly harassed and ticketed for laying down, camping or sleeping in public.”
But, apparently Maceri never relayed these concerns to city staff or the police department.
Former 1980’s City Councilman and Mayor Jim Conn berated City Hall, telling reporters he was ashamed of his home town. Conn was one of those responsible for rolling out the red carpet for the homeless in the 1980s and is therefore partially responsible for the flood of transients still coming here.
Conn should know providing unending “no strings” support while allowing persons to ignore the law with impunity (as suggested in the ACLU suit’s “Claims for Relief”) is enabling. It’ll never end homelessness and actually allow more people to become sick and die a lonely and painful death in an alley.
Maybe this is “OK” for the misguided barristers working under the ACLU banner or clueless ex-politicians, but it’s not all right with me or other truly caring persons.
Residents are telling me that despite all the services and money spent, there’s still crime, filth, panhandlers, drunks and “service abusers” who exist year in and year out on our streets. And now, lawsuits from the ACLU? Maybe it’s time to pull the plug, they say.
If that were to happen, the ACLU’s gunslingers may have truly shot and killed the Golden Goose.
Bill Bauer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.