The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the City of Santa Monica’s treatment of homeless sleeping on city streets.

While attorneys and officials of the ACLU claimed that Santa Monica made improvements to its practices for addressing homelessness as a result of the lawsuit filing in July 2009, city officials said the complaint was without merit because of the city’s history with helping the homeless.

The lawsuit alleged that the city has made it a crime to sleep in public places despite the fact that the city lacks sufficient shelters for most of the homeless, and has allowed its police force to cite homeless persons for various offenses with the intention of forcing them to relocate to nearby communities such as Venice.

According to the ACLU, provisions of the settlement include that no one should be forced out of the community simply for being homeless, all communities need to provide adequate shelter beds and services, and public safety personnel must be properly trained how to interact with the homeless. Santa Monica officials noted that the lawsuit dismissal

requires no monetary payment of any kind, no change in any city law, policy or practice and no admission of fault.

“Almost immediately after our filing against Santa Monica, we documented that the practice of using the city’s vague anti-camping ordinance to harass the homeless had ceased, and that therefore the objective of the litigation had been met,” alleged Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU.

“We are pleased to announce public settlement of the case, and commend the City of Santa Monica for its decision to no longer use its ordinance to criminalize poverty and mental illness.”

But Santa Monica officials claimed that the lawsuit was a waste of the ACLU’s resources and a failure to understand the city’s extensive work, saying that the city is recognized for its long history of responding to homelessness with compassion, innovation and funding.

“When it comes to addressing homelessness, Santa Monica is the regional leader. We believe the lawsuit was unnecessary and a distraction,” Mayor Bobby Shriver said. “Everyone needs to focus on regional issues to solve homelessness in Los Angeles once and for all.”

Referring to various support programs in place for homelessness, city officials listed the Action Plan to End Homelessness, which aims to ensure that the most vulnerable homeless are served and includes a Homeless Community Court.

Officials also pointed to a service registry that has led to resources being directed to hundreds of chronically homeless persons and the Project Homecoming program, which has helped reunite homeless people with their families. The most recent count of the city’s homeless showed a 19-percent drop in the population, officials noted.

“I am pleased that this lawsuit has ended and that the city has been vindicated. The case never should have been filed as the allegations were without merit,” City Councilman Richard Bloom said.

While Santa Monica officials said that the city has excelled in serving the most vulnerable persons living on the streets, they stressed that a sustained approach is needed to tackle homelessness, which remains not only a regional but national problem.

“With the litigation over, I hope that all parties will look forward, not back, and invite the ACLU and all others to be our partners in the important and challenging work of ending homelessness,” Bloom said.

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