In any given year, Orange County, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, is home to thousands of people forced to live and sleep on the streets because they cannot obtain housing or shelter, notes the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
And so, the ACLU o' SoCal has announced the launch of its Dignity for All Project to address civil and human rights issues arising from homelessness here.
Heather Maria Johnson, staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal's Orange County office in Orange, heads the new project that aims to advocate for needed policy changes to prevent and end homelessness in the county–including expanding access to emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, and medical care and opposing the criminalization of homelessness.
“People never choose to be homeless,” says Johnson in an ACLU SoCal statement. “Orange County is home to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. Sadly, thousands of people live in misery and despair in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The Dignity for All Project will shine a bright light on the vast inequality of living conditions.”
She's got street people cred, having worked previously at the National Law Center on Homelessness N Poverty in Washington, DC, where she successfully challenged local government and law enforcement practices criminalizing homelessness, such as ordinances prohibiting sleeping in public, panhandling or sharing food with homeless individuals.
Some of the types of battles the ACLU SoCal hints Johnson may enter include the recent community opposition to a year-round shelter in Fullerton and Anaheim's anti-camping ordinance.
“Human beings should not have to sleep on sidewalks or in parks and face criminal penalties because they are homeless,” Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of the ACLU SoCal's Orange County office, says in the nonprofit's statement. “Everyone deserves a safe place to live.”
For more on the Dignity for All Project, visit www.aclusocal.org/dignity.