A recent PublicCEO Editorial, ACLU’s Suit Against Santa Monica is Completely Off,” has generated considerable buzz and reader feedback. In an effort to provide all opinions on the subject, the following is a letter from the ACLU. The following letter came from the ACLU of Southern California:

Your editorial grossly mischaracterized our lawsuit against the city of Santa Monica over its policy of criminalizing the homeless. Nowhere in our lawsuit – a copy of which was forwarded to you – do we say that Santa Monica should act as an oasis for homeless to live and sleep outdoors because of its climate.

What we do allege is that despite its reputation as a liberal bastion with progressive political and social policies, the city of Santa Monica has used its police officers to harass and intimidate disabled homeless residents in recent years, citing or arresting them for sitting or sleeping in public places, and compelling them to “move on” to other cities.

As our legal director, Mark Rosenbaum put it, “It’s not only illegal but callous and inhumane for any city to have its police officers cite, arrest and harass mentally ill or physically disabled homeless persons, even as it fails to provide them with sufficient shelter space. But it’s particularly shocking and hypocritical in Santa Monica, which touts itself on its website as a ‘forward-thinking, caring community.’”

Santa Monica is the third city to be sued by the ACLU/SC in recent months for criminalizing chronically homeless people – those who have mental or physical disabilities and have been homeless repeatedly or for an extended period of time. The ACLU/SC previously sued Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara, and reached a settlement with the city of Laguna Beach last month.

“What these communities have in common is an effort to criminalize the chronically homeless by making homelessness and mental illness crimes, and then driving homeless persons to other communities,” Rosenbaum said. “Among these three cities, however, Santa Monica stands out for the hostility of its police toward chronically disabled homeless people.”

The facts in this case are very powerful. Here are two brief examples:

One chronically homeless man, a recovering addict, was arrested by Santa Monica police for sleeping at 4 a.m. just outside a local homeless shelter where there were no available beds. He showed the police his employee badge and pleaded to be permitted to go to his job. The police responded that there was a city policy to arrest anyone sleeping in public, handcuffed him and jailed him for two days. Afterward he was fired from his job.

A chronically homeless woman who is a paranoid schizophrenic and believes spaceships are trying to kill her has been arrested and jailed at least three times by Santa Monica police officers for “camping” on city streets. Repeatedly, police have told her to “move on.” As a result she currently sleeps on a sidewalk near Venice Beach.

“If you strip away the rhetoric of city officials, it’s clear that Santa Monica is doing less for the chronically homeless than it was 10 years ago,” said Jennie Pasquarella, a staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. “Yet the daily cost of providing a chronically homeless person permanent supportive housing is a fraction of the daily cost of arresting and incarcerating a homeless person. It’s time for Santa Monica to acknowledge reality and show the kind of leadership on providing services for the homeless that would make it truly deserving of the description ‘forward-thinking.’”

We hope that the next time you editorialize about a lawsuit of ours, you will take the time to read it first. We also encourage you not to rely on what could be inaccurate, third-party reporting to support rash or preconceived notions about the ACLU of Southern California and its work.

ACLU of Southern California

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