Thursday , 20 October 2016
Hesperia City Hall
File Photo (Photo Credit: Gary Martin)

ACLU Files a Federal Lawsuit Against the City of Hesperia

HESPERIA-( The Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC) believes that the City of Hesperia is wrongfully placing the stability of their program and clients at risk. The Victor Valley Family Resource Center is a charity that provides supervised transitional housing and many other services to  community residents, including those who are difficult to place.

A large portion of the VVFRC’s clients are those that need a second chance due to being on parole or probation for criminal convictions leaving them in need of a home. VVFRC is keeping these people off of the streets and providing support and encouragement. VVFRC says that their client recidivism rate is only 6% in comparison to the 56% national rate according to the National Institute of Justice.

A federal lawsuit against the city of Hesperia on behalf of the VVFRC and six of their clients was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday. The lawsuit challenges what ACLU officials are calling “attempts to unlawfully restrict housing and support services for individuals with criminal records”. The suit argues that efforts by Hesperia to shut down three transitional homes are intended to banish residents released on probation.

“The city’s efforts to shutter these homes is little more than an attempt to banish individuals with criminal records from their community,” said Adrienna Wong, a staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. “That’s unacceptable and violates the California Constitution and the 1st & 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”

The Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (H.O.P.E.) Program Spokesman, Cpl. Reggie Pahia told Victor Valley News that when they come in contact with those on probation of parole they send them to the probation office, who has funding to place them.  Currently, the San Bernardino County Probation Department refers individuals released from incarceration who have no place else to go to VVFRC, which provides transitional housing for up to one year, as well as meals, case management services, and permanent housing placement.

The lawsuit, filed against the city of Hesperia, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, and other city and sheriff’s officials, argues that several Hesperia municipal codes which were used to target VVFRC violate both the California and U.S. Constitutions. 

In the complaint, ACLU officials accused the City of Hesperia of enforcing a code prohibiting residential structures that house more than one individual on probation who are not related by blood or marriage. The ACLU said that this code violates “the individual plaintiffs’ right to association”. One of VVFRC’s transitional homes was forced to close as a result, and the remaining homes may face the same fate.

The complaint also indicates that privacy rights  are being violated by an ordinance that requires landlords to provide the personal information of their tenants’ to the police for a background check and a police-ran tenant registration database. The same ordinance requires that the landlord evicts tenants if the chief of police sends  a “notice of criminal activity” – even if the tenants are never convicted, charged, or even arrested for any crime.

Hesperia’s efforts to shut down or severely limit the operations of VVFRC are a direct challenge to the state Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109), the sweeping reform package enacted to ease severe overcrowding in California’s jails and prisons. AB 109 redirects state resources from building more prisons to investing in community-based programs that provide services such as transitional housing, addiction treatment, mental health counseling, job placement, and more. According to the ACLU press release, without VVFRC, these and other clients would be vulnerable to homelessness, which increases the risk of re-incarceration

“The city’s stance is not only unlawful but it also undermines public safety by eliminating the kind of re-entry and sober living group homes that provide crucial services to individuals who have no other recourse,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, ACLU SoCal general counsel and director of its Dignity for All Project. “Without a safe and supportive environment, they are at great risk of falling into homelessness and returning to criminal activity. Efforts by the city of Hesperia to eliminate this critical resource are ill-considered, unconstitutional and detrimental to public safety.”

The City of Hesperia Public Information officer, Rachel Molina said that they are aware of the complaint but were just served before noon Friday and needed time to review the complaint before commenting. 


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