I feel safer on the streets

Man sleeps near The Courtyard Transitional Shelter in Santa Ana, CA.


Sexual, physical, and mental abuse at three Southern California shelters

ORANGE COUNTY, CA — During the past year, Eve Garrow, policy analyst and advocate for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California did an investigation of three Southern California shelters in Orange County. The findings were disturbing as witnesses, volunteers, and staff members came forward with allegations of abuse (mental, physical, and sexual), unsanitary conditions, thefts, and discrimination.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a recent report by Ms. Garrow detailing the toxic conditions and abuse at these shelters—the Courtyard Transitional Center, SAFE Place in Santa Ana, Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim—and made 10 recommendations for bringing them into compliance with the law and with standard living conditions.

The issues in question are sexual abuse toward female homeless women by male staff members, discriminatory practices based on nationality and race, American Disability Act (ADA) violations by staff and administrators of the shelters, theft or destruction of personal property, including vital documents like birth certificates among others, unsanitary conditions, and retaliation by administration or staff if the residents complain or come forward with grievances. There have also been seven recorded deaths on the premises of these shelters and four in transit to local hospitals.

“Orange County’s emergency shelters are dangerously unregulated and downright abusive,” said Ms. Garrow. County officials received a copy of the report and are reviewing it before responding. This is not the first time county officials have been criticized because of the substandard treatment of the county’s homeless population.

In addition to the inhumane living conditions, the report also found discrimination and abuse, suppression of freedom of expression and movement, deprivation of fundamental rights without due process, impunity and lack of accountability. As I myself have witnessed all of this as an advocate and reporter of homeless issues here in southern California, there’s always one question I ask when I interview a homeless person who has been abused at the Courtyard Transitional Shelter:

“Why don’t you stay at the Courtyard?” The answer is fearful as most respond:

“I feel safer on the streets.”

Eve Garrow is the author of the ACLU report with collaboration of others including myself. The report can be found at: https://www.aclusocal.org/en/publications/thisplaceiskillingme

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