Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 4:32 pm | Fair 77º


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ACLU Sues Santa Barbara over Pair of ‘Homeless’ Ordinances

Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of bans on sleeping, camping in public. City takes an opposing view.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Barbara on Friday, claiming it has violated the constitutional rights of homeless people with disabilities.

The federal civil rights action was filed on behalf of four homeless residents of Casa Esperanza, 816 Cacique St., each of whom faces life back on the streets when the shelter’s winter program is closed April 1. The facility’s 100 residents will be turned out per the shelter’s conditional-use permit, which requires Casa Esperanza to convert back to a 100-bed shelter with emergency medical services between April 1 and Nov. 30.

“To be homeless and mentally ill in Santa Barbara, which bills itself on its Web site as America’s Riviera, is to be a criminal,” Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU/SC, said at De la Guerra Plaza news conference in front of City Hall.

The class-action lawsuit alleges that two of the city’s ordinances, one that prohibits sleeping in public from one-half hour after sunset to 6 a.m., and another that prohibits camping on any public park, street, area or beach effectively criminalize the homeless, who are forced by their very condition to sleep in public areas, Rosenbaum said.

City Attorney Steve Wiley said the city is likely to defend its ordinances.

“It seems to be a lawsuit that asserts that there is a constitutional right to camp in a city park or on the beach if you’re homeless and there aren’t enough shelter beds,” said City Attorney Steve Wiley, who by Friday afternoon had already taken an initial look at the complaint. “We really don’t think that’s true and we don’t think the judge is going to see it that way.”

As of Friday afternoon, Wiley had not yet had the chance to discuss the matter with the City Council, City Administrator Jim Armstrong or police Chief Cam Sanchez.

The ACLU complaint says Santa Barbara recognizes that “most homeless persons do not choose to be homeless,” according to a February city report, but the anti-sleeping and anti-camping ordinances continue to be in effect. On any given night in Santa Barbara County, there are more than 4,000 homeless individuals, said Rosenbaum, quoting from a county task force report.

Adding to the complication, said Rosenbaum, is Santa Barbara’s “manufacturing homelessness and perhaps even death warrants,” when Casa Esperanza will have to turn out half of its resident population to comply with its conditional-use permit. Just this last week, he said, two homeless individuals died in their van, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. Meanwhile, he said, the city has been allowing for the conversion of several single-room occupancy hotels that provide relatively low-cost housing into “tourist spots.”

“Every year I’m forced to choose who deserves the bed most,” Dr. Lynn Jahnke, a Casa Esperanza physician, said at Friday’s news conference. “In April, when we go to 100 beds, it’s a real crisis for my patients.”

The filing is also supported by Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.

“Such punitive measures are neither cost-effective nor successful in moving people off the streets,” said John Lemmond, a pastor at Montecito Covenant Church who called for community collaboration to help solve the problem of chronic homelessness.

The filers of the complaint also claim that enforcement of the laws is unconstitutional. According to the complaint, the Fourth (equal protection), Fifth (protection from abuse of government), Eighth (freedom from cruel and unusual punishment) and Fourteenth (due process) Amendments of the Constitution, as well as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, are being violated by the enforcement of the anti-sleeping and anti-camping ordinances.

“We are prepared to go to federal court next week and seek a temporary restraining order,” said Rosenbaum, who added that the ACLU will be inviting the city to establish a moratorium on the arrests of homeless people who violate ordinances and to modify the conditional-use permit that requires Casa Esperanza to decrease its available beds in April.

This is the third lawsuit that the ACLU of Southern California has brought upon cities with ordinances similar to Santa Barbara’s anti-sleeping and anti-camping ordinances. Its suit against Los Angeles resulted in a settlement, while its suit against Laguna Beach led to the repeal of its anti-sleeping ordinance.

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