LOS ANGELES (CN) – Affluent Santa Monica has made it a “crime to be homeless” and its police are harassing and forcing such people into neighboring cities, including Malibu, Venice and Skid Row in L.A., homeless people and the ACLU say in a federal class action. In an interview, an officer with Santa Monica’s “homeless liaison” said police were directed to make arrests for “crimes of presence.”
Homeless residents say they have been cited for sleeping in public though they have no other place to go, and that police harass them despite their physical and mental illnesses.
The chronically homeless plaintiffs who brought the action say they have been booted from the streets for “camping” though many or most of them are schizophrenic or drug-addicted and have no other place to go.
They say that officers often wake them up in the middle of the night by using shoes and batons or shining flashlights in their eyes.
Santa Monica police officers routinely insult and harass homeless people who are not bothering anyone or doing anything illegal, the complaint states.
The homeless said are told they must get out of Santa Monica and move on to Malibu, Venice, or Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.
Santa Monica estimates it has 915 homeless residents with less than 20 percent of whom are accommodated in shelters. The shelters all have lengthy waiting lists.
A 2006 study showed that roughly 94 percent of the homeless in Santa Monica suffer from mental illness, substance abuse or both, the complaint states.
The median home value in Santa Monica is $1.65 million. In 2005 to 2006 the city contributed 7 percent of its funds for programs and service to homeless causes.
The class seeks damages for due process violations, cruel and unusual punishment, violation of equal protection, the right to travel and freedom of movement, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They seek declaratory judgment, an injunction and costs.
They are represented by Jennie Pasquarella, Mark Rosenbaum and Bradly Phillips with the ACLU.