Settlement Reached in Orange County Regarding Homeless Encampment at the Santa Ana Riverbed

Press Release
Photo of a homeless man sleeping in a alley with a sign next to him with hand written words saying Homeless and Hungry.

(Santa Ana, CA - July 23, 2019) Today, People’s Homeless Task Force, represented by Disability Rights California and Latham & Watkins, reached a class action settlement. As a result of the lawsuit filed February 7, 2018, the settlement with the County of Orange alleges that the county efforts connecting homeless individuals with the appropriate services failed to be accessible for people with disabilities and cited the experience of seven Riverbed residents. Judge David O. Carter signed the class certification and injunctive order appointing Lili Graham from Disability Rights California and Carol Sobel from the Law Office of Carol Sobel, attorney in a related case, as class counsel.

The class injunctive settlement states that the County of Orange, its contracted agencies and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) will follow healthcare-led outreach approaches when working with individuals living unsheltered. The settlement calls for the implementation of new policies and procedures, and in the event future disputes arise, the Court will resolve through a dispute resolution process during the Court’s three-year jurisdiction. 

The new policies and procedures include a reasonable accommodation process that will allow individuals with disabilities to manage their conditions and symptoms while living in shelters or accessing other County services.

David L. Duran, a representative from People’s Homeless Task Force, is encouraged by the progress that the County has made and remarks, “We remain optimistic that positive efforts by the county and stakeholders will be made to take every necessary action(s) that helps immediately dissolve and eventually eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities, and finally will address and ameliorate harm from previously overlooked unlawful practices.” 

People’s Homeless Task Force’s member, Jeanine Robbins, vows it “Will continue to work to ensure that government agencies do not discriminate against society’s most vulnerable residents. Together we hope to make it clear that the poor, the homeless, and the destitute are not “lesser” than other Americans, and that they, too, have the same rights as those granted to all residents of the United States of America.”

“This settlement allows the County to honor its previously stated commitment to relocate every willing homeless person to appropriate housing and services. What was lacking before was the proper accommodations and willingness to reevaluate existing programs that did not have policies, procedures and training that would allow the disproportionate number of homeless individuals with disabilities access to much-needed shelters, programs and services. This settlement calls for robust Standards of Care that ensure staff are properly trained and every individual is offered protections under the law and the right to due process,” states Lili Graham, Disability Rights California attorney for People’s Homeless Task Force.

In addition, Orange County will adopt Standards of Care for its county funded or contracted homeless shelters. Part of the Standards of Care includes implementing mandatory training for shelter staff in areas of harm reduction, trauma-informed care, secondary trauma, mental health first aid, and non-violent crisis intervention. “We were honored to work alongside Disability Rights California in this highly-energized matter and pleased that the parties were able to agree to settle this case for the benefit of OC-area homeless, including many with PTSD and disabilities, and to seek proper treatment of these individuals and ensure the proper use of government funds for the development of programs and facilities to meet their needs,” states Andrew Gray, Partner, Latham & Watkins LLP.

The original lawsuit alleged that Orange County took discriminatory actions against homeless individuals with disabilities who resided at the Santa Ana Riverbed. In January of 2018, Orange County began the process of evicting hundreds of people living at the Santa Ana Riverbed including individuals experiencing mental, physical disabilities, or both. The County had previously committed to relocating every willing homeless person on the Riverbed to appropriate housing and services before requiring them to leave; however, the County began sudden evictions even though hundreds of people had not yet accessed the County’s services.

Members of People’s Homeless Task Force were at the clearing of the Riverbed and helped in many small and big ways to ensure that the dignity and essential needs of homeless individuals were met. Task Force members worked around the clock, driving individuals to doctor’s appointments, moved their belongings as they were shuffled to various programs and for some, paying for motels so the most vulnerable would not be left on the streets. 

Initially, the lawsuit alleged almost $700 million of unspent homeless services and program dollars but over the course of this litigation the County has allocated significant portions to homeless services. The continued leadership and spend down of these necessary funds will hopefully benefit any individual with disabilities that finds themselves unsheltered and in need of necessary services or programs. The settlement calls for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) to work with specially trained personnel to locate and offer appropriate shelter placement for the individual within his or her Service Planning Area (SPA), prior to enforcing Anti-Camping or Anti-Loitering ordinances. 

 

Disability Rights California is a non-profit organization founded in 1978. We protect the rights of people with disabilities. For more information, visit www.disabilityrightsca.org.

 

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