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City Responds Fiercely to L.A. Times Article on S.M. Homeless Treatment  
By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

March 22, 2010 --The City issued a press release Wednesday evening knocking the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Los Angeles Times for an article that appeared in the newspaper that day regarding Santa Monica’s treatment of its homeless population.

The article titled “Homeless People Can Find Compassion at the Beach” mentions the ACLU’s federal lawsuit against Santa Monica for alleged police harassment of its disabled homeless population (See ACLU Sues Santa Monica Over Homeless Policies. The article says Santa Monica has changed its policy since the suit was filed in July.

“The ACLU and the L.A. Times got it wrong about Santa Monica’s efforts to end homeless-ness,” the release issued by Assistant City Manager Kathryn Vernez states. “Even the most casual observer knows that it didn’t take a 2009 lawsuit from the ACLU to spur Santa Monica’s decades’ long efforts to house and treat the homeless.”

The release also says, “What can be said is that the City is more interested in ‘getting it right’ on the streets than in sound bites and posturing. From the beginning, the City saw the ACLU lawsuit as meritless as the City violated no one’s rights.”

ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who is quoted in the Times article, did not return calls for comment.

The ACLU suit alleges disabled homeless people in Santa Monica have been cited and arrested for sleeping and sitting in public places. Similar suits have been filed against other Cities, including Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach. Those two are mentioned in the Times article.

The article paraphrases Rosenbaum, “Overall, he said, the Cities have stopped treating homeless-ness as a problem for the courts and have begun tackling it with more housing and more services.”

The article goes on to quote Rosenbaum that since the three Cities have begun talks with the ACLU, “We've had no reports of any arrests or bench warrants being issued in the three Cities."

 


The City’s release says Santa Monica has never cited or arrested anybody for sleeping in public or for being homeless. It further states, “However, if people break the law, they are held accountable whether they have homes or not. The ACLU suit has not changed this or any other City practice. The City remains proud of its accomplishments and approaches to homeless issues.”

Council member Richard Bloom added, “The results of Santa Monica’s efforts to end homeless-ness speak for themselves. Our record is strong in housing and there is a 19 percent reduction in the street population. The misrepresentation of the facts undermines our important work.”

A recent one-night count of Santa Monica’s homeless showed the population went down from 915 last year to 742 this year. City officials attributed the reduction to the City Council’s 2008 Action Plan to Address Homelessness, which serves a smaller number of people more intensely.

Also, programs such as the Homeless Community Court -- which offers social services to those facing criminal issues -- and Project Homecoming -- which seeks to return homeless people to their families – were mentioned as factors. Additionally, improved coordination with government and nonprofit groups played a role.

“For the last several years, with the support of the City of Santa Monica, Supervisor Yaroslavsky, the faith community, and concerned residents and businesses, local homeless service providers have dedicated thousands of hours to reaching and housing some of our community’s most vulnerable individuals,” said John Maceri, Executive Director of OPCC, a homeless and low-income assistance program.

“The results of these coordinated efforts are evident in the reduction of street homelessness,” he added

 


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