Local News

ACLU Sues Orange County Homeless Shelters for Harassment, Violations of Rights

The ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit on December 10, 2020 against three Orange County homeless shelters run by Illumination Foundation, Midnight Mission, Mercy House, as well as against the city of Anaheim and the County of Orange who help fund and oversee these shelters, alleging sexual harassment, substandard living conditions, violations of rights, and retaliation against those who spoke against these practices.

The suit was brought on behalf of a number of plaintiffs who had stayed at these shelters—La Mesa shelter in Anaheim run by Illumination Foundation, The Courtyard Shelter in Santa Ana run by Midnight Mission, and Bridges at Kraemer in Anaheim run by Mercy House.

Fullerton’s Navigation Center (run by Illumination Foundation) is not named in the lawsuit.

The Courtyard shelter in Santa Ana.

The Allegations

Sex Discrimination and Harassment

“The staff at La Mesa and the Courtyard routinely subject women residents to unlawful sexual discrimination and harassment, including physically invasive searches, groping, other unwanted touching, leering, lewd comments, and propositioning,” the lawsuit states. “These acts create a hostile living environment and force women residents to endure this harassment as a condition of their shelter stay.”

Lock-In/Shut-Out Policy

The suit states that the “lock-in/shut-out” policy of these shelters, which is required by the County, violates the rights of residents.

“The so-called ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ is based on unfounded, negative stereotypes about homeless people, including the assumption that their presence around the shelter would have a negative impact on the surrounding community—and that being a ‘good neighbor’ therefore means preventing ‘undesirable’ people from being in the community,” the lawsuit states.

The suit cites a study commissioned by the County that admits that the Anaheim Police Department “does not have any statistical information related to the types of crimes associated with emergency shelters such as that proposed by the County.”

“The lock-in/shut-out policy segregates shelter residents from the community without legitimate justification, making it unreasonably difficult for shelter residents to travel locally to work and keep medical and other appointments,” the suit states.

Substandard Living Conditions

The suit says that “conditions at the three shelters are so unsanitary that they pose a risk to the health and well-being of shelter residents,” and that, “the shelters fail to meet minimum habitability standards for residential facilities.”

Retaliation

The lawsuit also says that residents who alert shelter staff or governmental authorities about the problems at the shelters faced retaliation from shelter staff, including eviction.

When asked for comment, representatives of the shelters named in the lawsuit said that they cannot comment on alleged allegations.

Illumination Foundation gave this statement to The Observer:

Due to the potential of an actual pending lawsuit, we cannot comment on any alleged allegations [sic]. It is unfortunate that hard work, dedication, passion, and caring for others who are less fortunate requires defense and justification. Illumination Foundation has served thousands of individuals and families over the past thirteen years. Our Guiding Principles are based on integrity, humility, sustainable compassion, quest for knowledge and critical thinking, client-centered care, innovation, advocacy, stewardship, and compliance. Beyond our mission to disrupt the cycle of homelessness, we believe every individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and should have the right to a home. We look to our clients as partners in their journey to health and healing. They have to meet us halfway and do the hard work needed to restore their lives to a place of sustained healing with an eye toward a better future. In order to achieve successful outcomes, our clients need to be actively engaged in our program. As an organization, we are extremely proactive in creating channels of communications for our clients. We have a grievance process in place across all sites, a client and staff idea/suggestion program called “Illuminate Us,” and we recently implemented a client satisfaction survey whereby clients could voice any concerns or identify areas of improvement. We provide the tools necessary to serve our clients to the best of our ability in order to meet not only their needs but their expectations. Illumination Foundation takes all client complaints seriously and examines feedback across the company in order to address concerns and improve where needed.

City of Anaheim spokesperson Lauren Gold wrote to The Observer, “We are proud of our work to open shelters and for the role they have played in helping people out of homelessness. We value resident well-being and dignity and hold our shelter operators to high standards with a process for concerns to be heard and addressed. We are reviewing what has been asserted and defer any further comment for now.”

Jessica Good, Public Information Manager for the County of Orange, wrote, “Per County policy, we cannot comment on matters involving pending litigation.”

Brooke Weitzman, attorney with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center and the lead lawyer in the case Orange County Catholic Workers v. Orange County et al. (the settlement agreement that has led to local jurisdictions building shelters) stated that the County has recently implemented Standards of Care “to promote best practices, detail rights and responsibilities for residents and staff, and ensure the protection of due process and disability rights for all residents.”

“It appears many of the issues [stated in the lawsuit] were from before the Standards were implemented,” Weitzman said. “The Court has jurisdiction over our case for a few more years and I’m in regular contact with the shelters and County to resolve issues as they arise.  We definitely encourage anyone to report violations and we will immediately bring them to the Court to be resolved.”

Weitzman also stated that two of the three shelters named in the lawsuit will be closed in the next month.

“Our settlement required the County to either get Courtyard [shelter in Santa Ana] up to HUD standards or replace it within 18 months. With that deadline upon us, Yale [a new shelter in Santa Ana] will start taking residents. A new woman’s shelter will be a component of Yale as well,” Weitzman said.

According to ACLU lawyers, a court date has not yet been set.

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15 replies »

  1. I think that just because 2 of the shelters stated in the lawsuit are closing within the next month or so doesn’t ease the fact that they violated these people’s rights. I know that one of them is the midnight mission which does have a shelter on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. So they do have their jobs at risk because of this lawsuit. Shame on them for violating these peoples rights like they did because at the end of the day they are still human beings and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just like those in charge would expect for those employees to treat one of their family members that would unfortunately be in one of these shelters because I know they’d blow a gasket if it had happened to them.

  2. It is awesome that finally someone is fighting back against the abuse of these resources. I was forced to participate in harassment in the FRIENDSHIP SHELTER. These are California state funded and plant outreach facilitators in the structures that pose as romantic interests. Rhetorical narratives make it all fake and difficult to prosecute. The harassment is the only thing real. It’s all about a big g bag of loot for the outreach which is increased by producing a MEASUREABLE OUTCOME by police that removes the targeted and visual from the community.

    • We stayed there until August 4th. We ran out so fast… I have documentation. I have 3 papers addressing the issues that still have not been addressed. 3 police reports… This is not a Mercy House.. But a drug infected facility. I fell on my back. Hosp. Papers to prove my story. I have called James Brooks ..spoken to him by phone . His meth clients are more important …than those were trying to heal. I was blind… Holes in my feet. I have all my proof by pictures and doctors notes. Spoken to Yolanda in person . there is so much more. I have telephone calls on my phone. To prove I have called time after time. James Brooks extension is 107 and Yolanda is 279. The staff .are incompetent … Lie .. Let Mr. Brooks eat the slop they serve there.

  3. UCLA if you governor give rooms from
    Them they don’t want stay there if you complain why you take home with you

  4. I’m currently in talks with a lawyer from the ALCU, the Fullerton Navigation Center should be on the list, Paul Leon and his PR lackey’s always seem to have “No answer” or response, because they are con artists and thieves, I stayed at the Homeless shelter by the Airport and the management there is disgusting, they hide and cover their asses constantly and never have any intent of reforming or changing and even if they did, it wouldn’t change that they seem more interested in filling beds than actually helping people and treat them as pawns in Chess to just sort and rearrange, it’s also a joke that none of them have any transparency and management skills, they hide in their offices all day saying “They’re busy”/”On the Phone” pretty much every day, prior to them having a hidden Covid Ward for 2 weeks prior to changing the shelter into a Covid site, their “wrap around services” were a joke, no one if rarely actually got helped and they allow people who are mentally ill to remain on site untreated, instead of getting them psychologically held by professionals, they allowed a person with schizophrenia to antagonize other residents and then wiped their hands cleaned when he self exited claiming “The voices in his head said he’d be dead if he stayed tonight” after only being on site for 2 days, Angie Desmund and Elliot should be ashamed of themselves and fear losing their jobs because they work for a money laundering scam, they hid people being infected even from some of their own employees, saying “What does one day matter” when there was a high chance of them becoming infected, not even including them having people show up on site who are negative through negligence or stupidity, allowing a violent resident who assaulted someone back onto the site, I exited on New Years Day on a hunger strike, out of fear and not feeling safe in a place with such horrible excuses for human beings that just “follow orders” and don’t question much if anything, I feel pity for these people for being such vile apathetic piles of secrets.

    • I agree. I stayed at Bridges and Melrose. I complained that they refused to follow CDC guidelines on a regular basis. I was kicked out for, dig this, refusal to participate in case management. I WAS a case manager and they had no right doing the things they were at Melrose. I even called the city of Placentia. They lied to the city! This goes back further. Like what about the federal reserve memo vol. 60 page 2917 in 1995 which makes referance to Mc Kinney Vento as it relates to El Toro reuse! I have lived here alk my life and seen three generations of women and children harmed by the policy of sanism and criminalization that is acceptable business as usual.

      • mercy house staff lied to 3 police officers… Yolanda and Mr. Brooks condone. This behavior. They have family members who they allow to break the rules.

    • They need thier beds to be full to get funding… They do not care about humans James Brooks and Yolanda are perfect examples of cold hearted… Individuals…whom lack the knowledge of running the Mercy House.

    • U nailed ..same issues at Mercy House… Mr.Brooks and Yolanda are the scam artist. Just have puppets … Who are incompetent. these clients r back in jail…have no desire to change.

  5. I went through illumination foundation and I don’t recommend that anyone go through the program they let you think they are helping you but in all reality they take everything you work for. I had received my housing voucher through families forward (a great blessing and program) and illumination foundation agreed and said that they would help walk me through the steps to success. They did nothing of that sort they switched my worker multiple times with out informing me and then my 2nd to last work went behind my back again without informing me, contacted my HUD housing worker 2 times for an extension. So when it started to get closer to my deadline date I had contacted my housing worker to ask for a little bit more tim(not knowing what illumination foundation had done) and was told that I had already had 2 extensions and that if I don’t find a place to move to I will lose my voucher. After confronting the illumination foundation about what they had done they moved my worker or fired her or whatever happened but I was then given a new worker again… This worker did more than any of them with somewhat of good intentions I guess.. Although knowing what my hud worker told me and my new worker from illumination foundation about where we are allowed to find a place and for how much I was approved for she set up appointments for opposite places. As in I was approved for$1750 monthly rent and I couldn’t rent in Anaheim, Santa ana, garden grove. Well 2 of the apartments she scheduled appointments for us were in Anaheim the other one was in garden grove and the other one was in Irvine and the rent was 2500 i would have to pay the remaining amount and they didn’t even accept housing vouchers. My deadline cane and I lost my voucher all thanks to illumination foundation and I still remain without a permanent residence…..
    Plus nobody even cares about the salvation army a program that is supposed to be about bringing families back together but then that emergency shelter allows child molesters… Orange county is so ducked up and way out im embarrassed to admit that I have ever even been here….

    • And it is still going on … If we as tax payers do not anything or speak up… It will continue..

    • Speak up…. These places r a refuge 4 drunks ..drugs users who not want to change. And than u have the 1% who really need help. If they can’t change their behaviour.. How will they stay consistent on paying their rent when the vouchers. Run out.

  6. I feel the same way about the horrible conditions at Fullerton Heights apartments! The very person that you need to complain about is the ONLY person who is available to hear a complaint. There’s no system of checks and balances, and they act (and have actually stated out loud) that you are truly just ungrateful if you open your mouth about anything. It’s harsh.

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