Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit over allegations that “sex abuse, overcrowding, and unhealthy conditions are rampant in three Orange County homeless shelter.” It further alleges the awful conditions have not improved since the organization “released a scathing 2019 report on the county’s emergency shelters.” The suit further states:
“To spend nights in Orange County emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness, women have had to endure relentless sexual harassment, including highly invasive body searches and voyeurism from staff members, as well as unchecked groping and lewd propositions.”
The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court and represents 11 shelter residents. According to the suit, the residents were allegedly subjected to “sexual abuse, rampant rodent and bedbug infestations, broken toilets and showers and extreme temperatures at the shelters.” In addition to naming Orange County as a defendant, it also names the city of Anaheim, Illumination Foundation, Midnight Mission, and Mercy House Living Centers & Protection America.
The suit notes that Illumination Foundation is the operator of La Mesa, a shelter funded by the city of Anaheim. The suit further states that “Mercy House operates Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim and Midnight Mission operates the Courtyard, which has more than 400 beds in a former transit center near the Civic Center in Santa Ana.”
According to a 2019 report published by the ACLU, there were problems “at Bridges and the Courtyard, as well as a women’s shelter called SAFEPlace.” The report, written by Eve Garrow, a policy advocate for the ACLU, stated:
“We haven’t seen a lot of progress since we released the report. The county has shown itself to be incapable at the moment of caring for this vulnerable population in a way that respects their rights and the dignity to which they are entitled.”
It’s important to note that SAFEPlace is excluded from the recent suit because it has made major improvements since the 2019 report. That’s not the case with the other shelters, and as a result, the ACLU, joined by law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, allege that “conditions at the shelters violate California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and provisions of the state Constitution that protect freedom of movement and ward against retaliation and invasions of privacy.” Additionally, the organization accuses the defendants of 14 specific acts of unlawful conduct, including negligence, breach of warranty of habitability, the unlawful expenditure of public funds, retaliation, battery, sexual battery, invasion of privacy, sex-based discrimination and harassment, and violation of equal protection and due process.
Garrow said, “We’re looking for resources sufficient to meet the needs of this vulnerable population as well as increased oversight and accountability.”