Court Approves Settlement Of Laguna Beach Homelessness Suit

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - A judge has finalized an agreement that will make facilities for the homeless in Laguna Beach accessible to people with disabilities in accordance with federal law, it was announced today. The Santa Ana federal court's approval resolves Glover v. Laguna Beach, a 2015 class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California on behalf of people with disabilities experiencing homelessness in that beachside city. 

The lawsuit argued that the city harassed and incarcerated people with disabilities who were forced to sleep outside because of the inaccessibility of the city's emergency shelter.

``Though we are pleased with the outcome, the money and time we've spent over the last three years defending ourselves against the unfounded allegations in this lawsuit would have been better spent elsewhere,'' Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig said in a statement. 

``We are ready to move on and put this behind us.''Monday's settlement sets up a procedure for individuals to request reasonable modifications to the city's shelter based on a disability, according to the ACLU. If staff at the shelter denies a request, the decision can be appealed to a city employee independent of the homelessness program and trained on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. Also, all shelter staff will receive a broad range of training on how to best serve those with disabilities.

``This settlement creates a system for ensuring that people experiencing homelessness who also have disabilities can benefit from Laguna Beach's homelessness program,'' ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said. 

``This means people will no longer be shut out of services on account of their disabilities.''

No money changed hands as a result of the settlement agreement, which also prevents members of the class from filing a multitude of potential similar future claims against Laguna Beach, Pietig said. Instead, the agreement ``only memorializes and reinforces the city's demonstrated, ongoing commitment to helping the homeless,'' he said. 

Pietig added that the court denied the ACLU's request for an injunction to prevent Laguna Beach police from enforcing laws prohibiting lodging and camping on public property. The ACLU said that the agreement calls for the development of some innovative services, such as a pilot program to provide separate sleeping spaces for persons who, because of a disabling condition, cannot sleep in crowded, congregate settings. And it provides for specific accommodations, such as wheelchair lifts in the city's shuttle van and cots instead of floor mats for people who need them. 

The settlement also obligates the city to train its police officers on proper interaction with people experiencing homelessness.

``People who are homeless are among the most vulnerable members of our community and unfortunately they are often the least able to access our system of care,'' said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst and advocate at the ACLU SoCal. 

``This settlement will ensure that even those with the most serious disabling conditions can access potentially life-saving homelessness services.''

Under the settlement, the court will retain jurisdiction over the case in order to enforce the agreement.

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