BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Kern County's Department of Human Services refuses to help homeless people who seek temporary aid, two men claim in court.
Hans Mills, Danny Bowen and California Partnership, a nonprofit, sued Kern County, its Board of Supervisors, and the county Department of Human Services Director Pat Cheadle, in Kern County Superior Court. They allege constitutional violations and violations of state welfare, disability and discrimination laws.
"Hans Mills and Danny Bowen are two of the many homeless, hungry and indigent residents of Kern County who sought assistance from the county's General Assistance program," the complaint states. "But when they went to the Department of Human Services ('DHS') to seek temporary assistance, they were turned away, discouraged from seeking help, and asked to fulfill illegal requirements that few, if any, indigent individuals could fulfill on their own. They were also asked to perform work that would have gone to a county employee if he were hired, without guarantee of payment of wages or aid. Despite their best efforts to fulfill the county's requirements, they were not given aid.
"Their stories are not unique. Most indigents who seek aid in Kern County are unable to meet the county's unlawful requirements. Of the more than 1,500 homeless individuals residing in Kern County on any given night, only an average of 50 receive General Assistance at any given time.
Plaintiff California Partnership is a Los-Angeles based nonprofit that seeks to reduce poverty by, among other things, educating leaders in low-income areas to speak up in local politics and advocating for the homeless to gain access to medical care and food.
State law requires every county to give General Assistance to its poorest residents: those who are homeless, jobless, have no resources, and do not qualify for other needy programs.
Counties establish their own eligibility criteria for the program, but their standards must comply with state law. Counties may not require applicants to provide certain types of third-party information, "may not stop assistance for more than six months, nor sanction individuals for violating the rules without good cause," and cannot force applicants to work to be eligible for aid, according to the complaint.
In its General Assistance program, Kern County uses a voucher system that allots $266 for a single-person household, with $40 automatically deducted for medical care, according to the complaint.
But the county has not updated its program since 1996 to reflect inflation and rising costs of living, Mills and Bowen say.
Since a CalWORKS grant for a single person in Kern County is $300, they claim that the aid Kern's voucher system provides is not enough to meet a poor person's subsistence needs.
They claim that Kern County "continues to impose unlawful application delays that preclude Kern County residents in critical need from getting help promptly and humanely by failing to process applications within thirty calendar days."
The county's eligibility requirements are unlawfully stringent and delay aid to those in need, the men claim. They say the county makes applicants attend work orientations even if they have physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from working; forces applicants to do job searches and obtain signatures from the "hiring agent" to verify that they completed the search; requires them to work a certain number of hours with no guarantee of aid or wages as reimbursement; and denies aid to people who do not meet the work-search requirements.