FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 27, 2008
Disability Rights Advocates:
Sid Wolinsky (510) 665-8644
Julia Pinover (510) 665-8644
Western Regional Advocacy Project:
Paul Boden (415) 621-2533
Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette LLP:
Daniel Mason (415) 693-0700
DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT AGAINST SAN FRANCISCO FOR HOMELESS SHELTER PROGRAM THAT EXCLUDES DISABLED PEOPLE
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — A landmark suit filed in federal court in San Francisco today charges that San Francisco’s homeless shelter program “blatantly discriminates” against disabled homeless people. Although the majority of all homeless people are men, women, and children with disabilities, the suit is the first in the country to broadly challenge the homeless shelter program of a city as a violation of civil rights statutes that protect people with disabilities.
The suit alleges that the cornerstone of San Francisco’s approach to homelessness — the embattled “Care Not Cash” program that is the brain child of Mayor Gavin Newsom systematically excludes homeless men and women with disabilities.
Care Not Cash gives participants priority shelter reservations and case management services. Homeless disabled persons who receive social security or veterans benefits cannot participate in the program, even if they desperately need shelter. People with disabilities are thus denied any opportunity to use a major portion of the resources in the shelter system and are denied access to the hundreds of reserved Care Not Cash beds.
Disabled persons are also denied any opportunity to make a 45-day shelter bed reservation, a privilege that Care Not Cash gives to eligible participants. In addition, these disabled men and women must compete with thousands of others each night for a chance to occupy one of the scarce shelter beds available. As a result, homeless people who need shelter the most are the ones who are least able to gain access to the services they so desperately need.
The class action suit, seeking relief on behalf of disabled homeless persons in San Francisco, was filed by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a Berkeley-based nonprofit law center, and Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette LLP, a major national litigation law firm. The suit seeks to end discrimination against disabled people and does not request money damages.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a non profit coalition protecting the interests of homeless people, and an individual with disabilities who is homeless in San Francisco.
Sid Wolinsky, Litigation Director for Disability Rights Advocates, commented:
“San Francisco’s homeless ‘program’ is a bureaucratic mess. Under Mayor Newsom’s system, disabled people are more likely to be forced onto the streets and alleys of San Francisco. No amount of smooth talking can hide the fact that there are only 1,300 shelter beds for some 3,800 single adult homeless people. No wonder the last report of the National Coalition for the Homeless named San Francisco the ‘eleventh meanest city in the United States.’ The City has created a cruel shell game in which everyone is a loser.”
San Francisco has a very serious shortage of shelter beds. The City guarantees to anyone enrolled in Care Not Cash that they can obtain one of over three hundred beds specifically set aside for them. Because disabled men and women cannot participate in Care Not Cash, however, men and women in wheelchairs or with mental disabilities must attempt on their own to locate some other available bed, travel to that location carrying everything they have, endure lengthy waits until late at night, and often be told that no bed is available. Even if they find a bed, they cannot keep it. They are forced to repeat the process each day. Because homeless persons with disabilities often lack the mental and physical fortitude to overcome the obstacles which San Francisco imposes, they are often left unsheltered.
Dan Mason, an attorney with Zelle Hofmann commented: “It is shameful for a city with the civil rights history of San Francisco to treat people with disabilities so unfairly. People denied shelter beds are the most fragile shelter seekers — those with disabilities.”
People with disabilities, both mental and physical, make up a very high percentage of the homeless population in San Francisco. In a 2007 survey conducted by the Coalition on Homelessness, 50% of individuals in the shelter system self-identified as having a disability. Homeless advocates estimate that a far larger percentage of homeless people are disabled.
Paul Boden, Director of WRAP added, “Homelessness is an emergency. It is a crisis. For San Francisco to programmatically discriminate and to make this vital life sustaining service unavailable to people with mental health disabilities is unconscionable.”
The full text of the complaint is posted at the Disability Rights Advocates website: www.dralegal.org.