ACLU sues Santa Monica over treatment of homeless

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Monica. KPCC’s Brian Watt says the suit alleges that the city violates the constitutional rights of homeless people.

Brian Watt: The ACLU accuses Santa Monica police of routinely ticketing or arresting homeless people for sleeping in public places while the city fails to provide them enough shelters. ACLU legal director Mark Rosenbaum said that in one case, the police arrested a recovering addict who’d been sober almost two months for sleeping just outside a shelter where no beds were available.

Mark Rosenbaum: And this individual pleaded with the police at 5 in the morning not to arrest him. He took out his employee badge and said that "if I’m arrested, I’m going to lose my job."

Watt: Rosenbaum said the police jailed the man for two days, and the man did lose his job. Rosenbaum said such policies make homelessness a crime in Santa Monica, where more than 900 people are homeless on any given night. Julie Rusk, the city’s human services manager, said Santa Monica does a lot to fight homelessness – but it can’t solve the problem by itself.

Julie Rusk: If every community stepped up, and did even half of what we’re doing here in this community, we would end homelessness.

Watt: The ACLU has recently filed similar lawsuits against Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara. Laguna Beach settled last month. Rosenbaum says the organization isn’t seeking court battles, but it is trying to change the way the cities address homelessness.

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