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'Unchecked Groping' Alleged at Calif. Homeless Shelters

ACLU sues cities, operators of 3 Orange County shelters
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 11, 2020 1:00 PM CST

(Newser) – In March 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report that suggested it was better to spend time in jail than in dirty, overcrowded Orange County homeless shelters. Residents at Anaheim's Bridges at Kraemer Place and Santa Ana's Courtyard Transitional Center and SAFEPlace shelters described feces covering bathroom walls, infestations of cockroaches and bed bugs, voyeurism, and indoor temperatures up to 96 degrees. In a lawsuit filed on behalf of 11 residents at Bridges, Courtyard, and Anaheim's new La Mesa shelter on Thursday, the ACLU says little has changed, per the Los Angeles Times. The suit describes rodent infestations, extreme temperatures, and sexual abuse. The ACLU says women have endured "relentless sexual harassment, including highly invasive body searches and voyeurism from staff members, as well as unchecked groping and lewd propositions."

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One Courtyard resident says the sexual harassment "was so bad that sometimes I wondered if it would have been better to stay in the abusive relationship I fled," per MyNewsLA. "The county has showed itself to be incapable ... of caring for this vulnerable population in a way that respects their rights," adds Eve Garrow, co-author of the 2019 report, per the Times. She says SAFEPlace was excluded from the suit as it has shown major improvements. Meanwhile, complaints have been lodged against La Mesa, operated by Illumination Foundation. The foundation is named along with Bridges operator Mercy House Living Centers & Protection America, and Midnight Mission, which operates the Courtyard. Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Andrew Do counters that millions of dollars have been spent on homeless programs. "Somebody is reaching here," he says. (Read more ACLU stories.)

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