Disabled Homeless People Fight San Diego RV Laws

SAN DIEGO (CN) — A disability rights attorney told a federal judge Thursday that a San Diego city code outlawing overnight parking of RVs discriminates against disabled people living in vehicles, in a city grappling with a homelessness crisis.

A group of disabled homeless RV owners filed a class action against San Diego last year, claiming two municipal codes outlawing living in one’s vehicle and parking oversize vehicles on city streets overnight discriminates against disabled people with nowhere else to go.

The class members were in talks with the city in March 2017 and asked for an accommodation to park their RVs on city streets overnight without being ticketed, but the city declined to change its policy.

San Diego’s homelessness crisis received national attention last year after a hepatitis A outbreak spread among the city’s unsheltered population, sickening hundreds and killing 20 people.

To help curb the outbreak, San Diego opened shelters and camps, cleaned city streets with a bleach solution and opened up “safe park” lots where people living in cars could park overnight. But those lots were not opened up to homeless people living in RVs.

Class members filled the federal courtroom Thursday for a hearing on the city’s motion to dismiss; some attended with their service dogs.

Disability Rights attorney Ann Menasche told U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia that while San Diego’s laws are “facially neutral” and do not intentionally discriminate against disabled people living in RVs, the laws nonetheless are discriminatory because they disproportionately affect disabled homeless people, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Menasche said some options available to nondisabled homeless people, such as going to a homeless shelter or finding permanent housing, may not be viable options for disabled people.

Living in shelters can exacerbate physical and mental problems, Menasche said. She added that homelessness is connected to her clients’ disabilities: Since many are unable to work, and survive with government assistance, they can’t afford San Diego’s sky-high rents.

The average rent for an apartment in San Diego is $2,043, and the average apartment size is 827 square feet, according to recently updated information on the RentCafé website.

Menasche said one of her clients was hospitalized after his health problems were aggravated when his RV was impounded.

“They are affected in a way people without disabilities are not,” Menasche told the judge.

“They are trapped in being ticketed, with no way of avoiding ticketing, and then their homes are taken away and they end up on the street.”

But Battaglia asked some tough questions. “I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” he said. “I think homelessness is a big problem,” he said, after asking Menasche what “the disabled community is being deprived of that the able-bodied community is not?”

Deputy City Attorney Kathy Steinman called the issue “straightforward,” and said the lawsuit “attempts to bootstrap” an allegation of disability discrimination, though the case is “really about homelessness.”

Steinman said the class could not meet its burden to prove that the city code discriminates against them because of their disabilities.

In its motion to dismiss, the city claimed its ordinances are “generally applicable regulations” that apply to all vehicles and do not distinguish vehicles displaying disabled placards.

Battaglia took the matter under submission and indicated he will issue a written order.

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