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Homeless Man Challenges LA Vehicle Towing Policies in Court

A homeless man is challenging in court the city of Los Angeles’ practice of towing vehicles as a mechanism for collecting debt.

Joseph Safuto’s amended Los Angeles Superior Court petition, filed Tuesday, maintains the city should not be able to tow vehicles without a public-safety justification solely because of lapsed registration. The court action also takes to task the way the city conducts towing hearings.

…The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Western Center on Law & Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California are representing Safuto.

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PRESS RELEASE: L.A. Man Sues City After Car Towed and Sold Over Two Parking Tickets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Car Auctioned Despite Man’s Participation in Community Assistance Parking Program

LOS ANGELES — A person experiencing homelessness, Joseph Safuto, has sued the City of Los Angeles, challenging the city’s practice of towing vehicles as a mechanism for collecting debt – in this case two unpaid parking tickets that resulted in a lapsed registration. The lawsuit challenges the city’s practice of towing vehicles without a public safety justification solely because of lapsed registration, and it challenges the way the city conducts towing hearings.

“I put a lot of effort into getting the car registered, but I had those two parking tickets that were holding it up. I was trying to work them off through CAPP, and they towed it anyway,” said Safuto. “I was already struggling to get me and my daughter housing and to get on my feet again. When my car was towed, it pushed me into a deeper hole, not just financially but also emotionally. It was debilitating, and all of this for two parking tickets. It’s wrong to leverage a small debt to the city to take people’s property.”

The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California are representing Safuto.

“At a time when the city should be focusing its resources on moving people out of homelessness, Mr. Safuto’s case illustrates how the City’s continued reliance on law enforcement and punitive measures actually perpetuate the cycle of poverty,” said Shayla Myers, senior attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Safuto suffers from mobility disabilities that prevent him from working. He used his vehicle to visit his nine-year-old daughter, attend medical appointments, and run errands. 

In April 2019, the Los Angeles Police Department ordered Safuto’s vehicle towed, even though the car was not impeding traffic or impacting public safety in any way. The justification for the tow was that his registration had expired, but he was prevented from re-registering his vehicle, even though he had paid the registration fee. The city had a hold on his registration because he had not paid two outstanding parking tickets, totaling about $350.

At the time of the tow, Safuto was enrolled in the Community Assistance Parking Program, which allows people experiencing homelessness to pay off outstanding parking tickets by performing community service. He was scheduled to participate in the program on the day his vehicle was towed.

“Leaders of California and Los Angeles say they are working to get people out of poverty and out of homelessness, but actions like these work against individuals like Mr. Safuto who try their best to stay afloat and follow the law,” said Rebecca Miller, an attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Our state can’t afford city policies that punish people for poverty.”

Safuto informed the officer who towed his vehicle that he had submitted necessary proof and fees to register his car, and that he was participating in the Community Assistance Parking Program, but the officer had the car towed anyway.

Safuto later presented this information at an administrative hearing, where he contested the tow, but the administrative officer only considered that the car had not been registered at the time of the tow.

Because Safuto was unable to pay the fees associated with the tow — including a $115 City of Los Angeles “vehicle release fee,” a $41.50 daily storage fee, and a $70 lien processing fee — the towing company sold his car at lien sale.

Despite the fact that the car was sold, Safuto was charged $1004.50 to cover the lien and he still had to do the community service to work off the parking ticket debt.

“Everyone has a right to due process and security in their belongings, and cars are no exception,” said Julia Devanthéry, the Dignity for All staff attorney at the ACLU of SoCal. “Vehicles are essential for many Angelenos — especially those experiencing homelessness. The city should be investing in affordable housing instead of cutting people’s essential lifelines to work and safety by towing their cars for debt collection.”

This action is an amendment to a petition filed in July. Safuto seeks a court order to ensure that the City tows vehicles only when it is necessary for public safety, rather than for debt collection. Safuto also seeks to reverse the decision of the administrative hearing officer and recover all costs associated with the tow, as well as the cost to replace his vehicle.

Read the lawsuit here.

 

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Sara Williams, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, (323) 801-7996, [email protected]

ACLU SoCal Communications & Media Advocacy, (213) 977-5252, [email protected]

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About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

About Western Center on Law & Poverty
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.

About ACLU of Southern California
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California was founded in 1923 to defend and secure rights guaranteed by the Constitution – free speech, religion, the rights of assembly, freedom of the press, and due process under the law — and extend them to people who have been excluded from their protection. Our work is accomplished through litigation in the courts, public education and lobbying.

 

California voters may be asked to steer homeless to services

California voters could decide next year whether to create new county courts to steer homeless people to mental health and drug addiction treatment programs.

Former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Democrat, proposed a ballot measure on Thursday aimed at providing services to people who commit crimes like defecating in public or using drugs.

…“The initiative is an embarrassing attempt to make California more visually appealing to those who have no interest or knowledge in addressing the root causes of what is happening to people in our state and country,” the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a nonprofit legal organization, wrote in a statement.

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Statement on proposed state ballot measure to address homelessness in California

An initiative aimed at addressing homelessness in California has been submitted to the California Attorney General for the 2020 ballot, which purports “to get help for those who need it, and thereby also greatly reduce nuisance behavior on our streets.”

The initiative is an embarrassing attempt to make California more visually appealing to those who have no interest or knowledge in addressing the root causes of what is happening to people in our state and country. This proposal would take California back into the dark ages of mass institutionalization of people with perceived or real mental illness. This is not new. California has tried this before, and it didn’t work.

Western Center firmly believes this measure is illegal under a number of civil rights laws. Separate from the legal issues, there are a multitude of problems with the measure. This is not a moderate or compromise proposal, but rather, a return to the now debunked “broken windows” theory Rudy Giuliani used in New York City in the 1990s. Such zero tolerance approaches only exacerbate racial and class disparities through an overly aggressive criminal justice system.

In his letter introducing the initiative, its author, former State Assemblymember Mike Gatto, states, “One side primarily believes the government should be more aggressive in making our streets safer for all people. The other side thinks government should be more lenient, believing that economic hardships are the singular cause.” 

The idea that there are only two sides to this complicated issue is overly simplistic. Homelessness is the result of rapidly increasing income inequality, but it is also the result of years of government mismanagement of resources and funding, as well as institutionalized racism. Voters in Los Angeles just approved significant funding for homeless services, yet countless individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles continue to go without access to services.

Many of the people who currently live on the streets are victims of our foster-care system, or are veterans who served in one of this country’s numerous wars. In those situations, intervention of vital mental health services would have changed the trajectory away from the streets, but because of local and state government’s lack of implementation oversight or commitment to making sure people get the help they need early on, many of those people are left with only the street to turn to.

The State of California has not prioritized providing services or housing for the ~130,000 people experiencing homelessness here. The idea that the state would now have the resources and wherewithal to create and maintain the vast network of institutions this measure would require is absurd.

Gatto’s proposal would require courts to sentence people with substance use disorders or mental illness to maximum criminal sentences. It then allows courts to force people to serve those sentences in locked mental health or drug rehabilitation facilities. Once they have served those sentences, the court has the discretion to keep people locked in those same facilities. Upon completion of the sentence, courts then get to decide whether the individual’s criminal record can be expunged. This will, unquestionably, steer extremely low-income people into the criminal justice system.

The proposition also requires courts to help those without economic means to secure and access housing and other government services, yet it does not provide any funding mechanism to actually increase the services available. 

Institutionalization does not work; all one has to do is look at the massive failure that is America’s prison industrial complex. This measure will NOT end homelessness — it’s not even a workable band-aid. 

There are proven solutions that this initiative ignores. The state can ensure that the millions of dollars being allocated for homeless services actually get to the people who need them, where they need them. There have not been nearly enough good-faith efforts to make sure people receive the services needed to get back on their feet. 

Local and state governments should make sure people have easy access to mental health services when they are wanted and needed. This measure solely blames the victims, but does nothing to hold the systems accountable that put them there in the first place. Mass homelessness is a societal and government failure, and this measure lets government off the hook.

The state must also ensure that safe, stable, and affordable housing is available to everyone. Service delivery is infinitely more effective when people are housed. 

California purports to be a leader for the country and the world, but this measure is more in-line with the regressive policies coming from Washington DC than a state that claims to be on the path toward Governor Newsom’s “California For All.”

If #CaliforniaForAll is to be more than just a pithy hashtag, we absolutely cannot start involuntarily institutionalizing the victims of this country’s out-of-control economic system, failed health care system, centuries of legalized racism and discrimination, and never-ending wars.

If this initiative moves forward, Gatto and his supporters can expect a fight from Western Center and our allies. 

The federal government can help with California’s homelessness crisis, but not Trump’s way

By Anya Lawler, Western Center Housing Policy Advocate 

Lately, President Trump has developed a keen interest in California’s homelessness crisis. On his fundraising trip through the state, the president expressed concern for the impact the crisis has on wealthy foreign real estate investors, and on “our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings.”

Notably absent from his concern is the one group that feels the impact of the crisis most—people who struggle to survive every day without a roof over their head. President Trump seems uninterested in humane, compassionate solutions, or ensuring that the federal government is fulfilling its responsibility by providing the resources needed to make sure everyone has safe, stable, affordable housing.

Instead, there are hints that the President is pursuing policies that would further criminalize homelessness and treat human beings struggling with poverty as objects to be warehoused out of view. This continues the Trump administration’s cruel pattern of using a humanitarian crisis as an excuse to remove people’s constitutional freedoms, and then blaming those hit hardest by the crisis for being there in the first place.

None of us should be surprised. The administration has introduced one heartless policy after another that, if implemented, would undoubtedly increase homelessness in California and beyond. A few examples:

  • The proposed DHS Public Charge Rule, which will hamper economic mobility and increase poverty by scaring immigrant families away from using crucial programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which help children and families exit poverty and prevent subsequent harm.
  • The proposed new HUD Mixed Status Rule, which will force families to make an impossible choice between removing family members from their household or losing needed housing assistance.
  • The proposed weakening of the HUD Disparate Impact Rule, which will limit housing opportunity by making it easier to discriminate against members of protected classes. If implemented, the rule will have a direct impact on the homelessness crisis by facilitating discrimination against people experiencing homelessness.
  • The proposed changes to the HUD Equal Access Rule, which flies in the face of proven solutions, and creates unnecessary barriers for accessing shelter, directly contributing to an increase in the rate of unsheltered homelessness.
  • The proposed rule changes to SNAP Time Limit Regulations and SNAP Categorical Eligibility Rules, requiring people to make the impossible choice between food and money for housing.

Rather than pursuing misguided and ineffective efforts that dehumanize people and undermine their ability to succeed, Trump could make far more of an impact by removing these deeply problematic rules from consideration, and instead focusing on proven solutions to prevent and reduce homelessness.

While the causes of California’s homelessness crisis are complex and deeply rooted in racial and economic inequality, one crucial part of the solution is housing people can afford. Homelessness will not end in California without a drastic increase in the supply of housing affordable to households with low incomes. The vast majority of funding for that kind of housing is controlled by the federal government.

Stable affordable housing—both with and without supportive services—ensures that vulnerable families and individuals don’t become homeless, assists the legions who have already lost housing, and allows chronically homeless individuals to receive the services they need to stay off the street. California’s dramatic housing shortage is catastrophic for lower-income people; it will take sustained and substantial funding to turn it around.

There is little chance the state can remedy the affordable housing shortage without a significant increase in federal resources. But rather than address the chronic underfunding of federal housing programs that are critical to serving people with the lowest incomes, the Trump administration is pursuing cuts. Rather than increasing the number of Housing Choice Vouchers available in California so eligible households aren’t stuck on years-long waiting lists, the administration remains focused on cutting HUD’s budget and applying problematic Fair Market Rent calculations that add to the challenge of voucher utilization. Rather than ensuring families are stably housed so that they can focus on improving their economic well-being, he remains focused on tearing families apart and punishing them for using the public assistance intended to prevent the many harms caused by poverty.

More policing is not a solution to homelessness. It is not a crime to be poor. It is not a crime to lack adequate shelter. What is criminal is a country as wealthy as ours, where there are resources to humanely address homelessness and knowledge of how to do so effectively, with a president who is more interested in using the homelessness crisis for political gain. We encourage and invite the president to change course and join us in the pursuit of real solutions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announces advisers on combating homelessness

Gov. Gavin Newsom is moving forward with plans to combat homelessness in California.

He announced the names of the regional leaders and statewide experts who will advise his administration on developing solutions to address the state’s homelessness epidemic.

  • Darrell Steinburg, Sacramento mayor
  • Mark Ridley, Los Angeles County supervisor
  • Libby Schaaf, Oakland mayor
  • Esmeralda Soria, Fresno City councilmember
  • Nathan Fletcher, San Diego County supervisor
  • V. Manuel Perez, Riverside County supervisor
  • Sofia Pereira, Arcata City councilmember
  • Frank Mecca, executive director for the County Welfare Directors Association
  • Sharon Rapport, associate director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing
  • Anya Lawler, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty
  • Michelle Cabrera, executive director for the County Behavioral Health Directors Association
  • Phillip Mangano, former director of theU.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
  • Will Lightbourne, former director of the Department of Social Services

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