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ACLU files suit against Santa Monica

July 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Santa Monica has become the third coastal city to be accused of trying to run the homeless population out of town. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the city, alleging police have been harassing homeless people with mental and physical disabilities."Johnnie" has been living on the streets of Santa Monica for 10 years. He spends most nights sleeping on a bench. He says the police don't usually bother him.

"Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. I'm OK now. They left me alone, they kept on going," said Johnnie.

But according to the ACLU, there are several homeless people in Santa Monica that are being harassed and arrested by police.

"To be poor and homeless, and mentally disabled in America is not a crime. But in Santa Monica, police routinely site, arrest, handcuff and jail the poor, the homeless and the mentally disabled," said Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the city of Santa Monica, demanding more housing.

"The 38-year-old gentleman ... was literally a serious crack addict who was in the recovery process ... was literally sleeping two feet outside the door of the shelter because he could not get in," said Rosenbaum.

"We're perplexed and surprised, because we know that in Santa Monica our track record of really addressing this very complex and difficult issue has been strong and consistent for many decades," said Julie Rusk, who is the Human Services Manager for the city of Santa Monica.

Rusk says there are over 400 shelter beds in the community. The city also opened a 40-unit building to permanently house the mentally disabled.

"We spend many millions of dollars a year to address housing for people," said Rusk. "Because housing is what ultimately ends people's homelessness."

The ACLU says what Santa Monica is doing isn't enough to house the more than 900 homeless people in the city. The group wants the city to spend their money building shelters rather than prosecuting the homeless.

"If the city were to adopt the programs that other communities have done, the cost of housing and to service a homeless person is $33 or less," said Rosenbaum.

The ACLU hopes to solve the issue outside of court. They reached a similar out-of-court settlement with Laguna Beach in June.

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