Orange County Homelessness: Our Timeline Advocating for a Long-term Solution

Orange County’s burgeoning homeless problem is coming to a head. Over 750 homeless persons living on the Santa Ana Riverbed have been evicted. Shelters at the Courtyard and Bridges at Kraemer Place are at capacity and in some cases unsafe for persons of disabilities. To add insult to injury, elected officials are failing to use hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars find permanent solutions to provide service and safely house these homeless individuals.

To shine light on stories that aren’t making headlines, LASOC developed the following timeline of what we’re doing to find permanent solutions for the county’s most vulnerable population since initially filing a lawsuit against the County of Orange for discriminatory actions taken against homeless individuals with disabilities who currently reside at the Santa Ana Riverbed on February 7, 2018.

February 7, 2018:

Legal Aid Society of Orange County filed a lawsuit against the County of Orange for discriminatory actions taken against homeless individuals with disabilities and their ability to access the County’s programs or services because of their disabilities. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of People’s Homeless Task Force, a homeless advocacy association, and seven homeless individuals who live at the Riverbed.

See the full press release here.

March 23, 2018:

LASOC files an amended complaint against the County of Orange. See the amended complaint here.

March 25, 2018:

An updated court order is issued by Judge David O. Carter where he issues his concerns that the County is not doing enough to ensure it will meet its promise to find a permanent solution. Read the order here.

March 27, 2018:

LASOC provided a letter to be included in public comment during the County Board of Supervisors hearing on March 27.

Not noted in several news outlets, however, were the public comments in support of a permanent solution using the $70.5 million in mental health funding. Some residents also voiced support of converting Fairview, utilizing Irvine’s county land and/or Laguna Niguel’s county land. Many residents agreed that these people lack the services needed including mental health services or access to benefits.

Read the letter submitted to the Board of Supervisors here.

May 31, 2018:

The Orange County grand Jury releases a report on the effects of chronic homelessness in the County and urges leaders to collaborate on solutions: Read the full report here. 

Continue to check back as we share more updates regarding this very important issue to all residents of Orange County. Thank you for the continued support.




On February 7, 2018, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County filed a lawsuit against the County of Orange for discriminatory actions taken against homeless individuals with disabilities who currently reside at the Santa Ana Riverbed. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of People’s Homeless Task Force, a homeless advocacy association, and seven homeless individuals who live at the Riverbed.

On January 22, 2018, the County began the process of evicting hundreds of people living at the Riverbed, the majority of whom experience mental or physical disabilities, or both. Although the County had previously committed to relocating every willing homeless person on the Riverbed to appropriate housing and services before requiring them to leave, the County buckled under mounting political pressure and began sweeping the Riverbed even though hundreds of people had not yet accessed the County’s services. The lawsuit alleges that the County’s program and its sudden eviction of Riverbed residents before the program was completed are discriminatory because its actions deny individuals living on the Riverbed access to the benefits of the County’s services by reason of their disabilities.

“My team and I were retained by desperate homeless residents living in substandard conditions with hopes of accessing the services and housing options promised by the County so that they could successfully exit the Riverbed encampments. Despite weeks of working with the County to seek reasonable solutions for our clients, it was clear that County services are so inadequate that they would only cause further harm to individuals with disabilities,” said Lili Graham, Director of Litigation at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County. “The County has identified the complex needs of the homeless in obtaining significant funds from the state and federal governments, yet much of that money has gone unspent. The County must take a hard look at the implementation of its program and work with knowledgeable professionals to create viable long-term solutions for chronically homeless individuals. A mass eviction of the County’s most vulnerable residents is not a solution.”

The lawsuit alleges that Orange County has nearly $700 million in unspent funds available to end homelessness, including $146 million for housing vouchers, $8 million for affordable housing, $67.5 million for mental health treatment and residential care, and nearly $227 million in CalWORKS funding. However, the County’s continued lack of willingness to implement long-term solutions to end homelessness has left these vast funding reserves largely untapped.

Plaintiffs are represented by Lili Graham, Sarah J. Gregory, and Michelle Kim Kotval, attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of Orange County.

Editorial contact: Lili Graham | 714.571.5282 | lgraham@legal-aid.com

About Legal Aid Society of Orange County

The Legal Aid Society of Orange County is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free legal aid services to our community’s most vulnerable populations: veterans, the homeless, families, and low-income individuals. For over 58 years, LASOC has spread its services— advocacy, legal counseling, community education, and legal representation—throughout Orange County and southeast Los Angeles to bring equal access to justice for all.

Victory in Court for Low-Income Motel Residents

Victory in Court for Low-Income Motel Residents

The former Costa Mesa Motor Inn on Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, CA.

Judge invalidates development approvals for conversion of Costa Mesa Motor Inn

Media coverage available from Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles – A developer may not convert a Costa Mesa residential motel to a luxury apartment complex by circumventing planning and zoning requirements for affordable housing, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last week in The Kennedy Commission, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, et al.

“LASOC’s affordable housing advocacy in Orange County highlights the desperate need for actual affordable units for low-income residents like our clients,” said Director of Litigation Lili Graham, who has litigated this case since 2016. “When many of the households were forced to move out of the Motor Inn, they had very few or no options for housing in this community. Thankfully, the Court confirmed the Legislature’s intent to provide tools that addresses the affordable housing crisis throughout California.”

Judge Mary H. Strobel invalidated development approvals for conversion of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn because the City allowed the proposed project to be built at 54 units per acre, well above the maximum 40 units per acre she said was permitted by local planning and zoning laws. The court ruled that under the state’s Density Bonus Law, cities may permit an increase in density only if the developer agrees to build some units affordable to poor people. That did not happen in this case, said Judge Strobel, who also held that the development approvals violated the City’s General Plan for land use.

“The state law gives developers an incentive to build affordable housing,” said Navneet Grewal, an attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who represents the Kennedy Commission — an Orange County housing advocacy organization — and four former tenants of the Motor Inn. “What the City and the developer improperly tried to do here was exactly the opposite – build luxury housing at the expense of low income tenants.”

The lawsuit also contends that under state law displacement of the long-term tenants requires the City to prepare a relocation assistance plan, which would include reimbursement for moving and related expenses. “For many years, the City has acted on a plan to demolish the Motor Inn and evict its long-term residents,” said Julian Burns from Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, another attorney for the petitioners. “The City may not do that without giving the assistance the law requires.”

Judge Strobel agreed that it was “undisputed that persons who were long-time residents of the Motor Inn have been required to vacate the premises.” But the court stated it was unnecessary to decide the relocation issues, transferring the matter to another judge for trial.

The petitioners are represented by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Bird Marella, the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, and Western Center.


About the attorneys for the petitioners:

Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services of southeast Los Angeles County provides civil legal services to seniors and low-income individuals and promotes equal access to the justice system.

Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C. is a boutique litigation firm, whose trial lawyers defend national and multinational corporations, government agencies, closely held companies, partnerhsips, and individuals.

Public Interest Law Project, an IOLTA funded non-profit state support center, provides crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California.

Public Law Center, Orange County’s pro bono law firm, is committed to providing access to justice for low-income and vulnerable residents through counseling, individual representation, community education, strategic litigation and advocacy to challenge societal injustices.

Western Center on Law and Poverty, an independent nonprofit law firm originally founded as a joint legal clinic of the law schools of USC, UCLA, and Loyola, brings about system-wide change on behalf of low-income individuals and families through impact litigation, advocacy, negotiations, and legal aid support.

LASOC helps single mother win $7,500 in lost overtime wages

LASOC helps single mother win $7,500 in lost overtime wages

IMG_0459Anna,* a single mother, was denied overtime payments after years of working 48-hour weeks with only one day off to spend with her teenage daughter. She feared if she challenged her employer she would be fired. Anna was trying to save as much money as she could to pay for her daughter’s college tuition, so losing her job was not an option.

Unable to afford an attorney, Anna was unaware of how strong her claim was. She didn’t know what documentation she would need or what the best strategy would be for her case. Moreover, Anna had signed an arbitration agreement during her hiring process, solidifying her belief that she had little chance of gaining the overtime pay she was entitled to. Feeling discouraged and defeated, Anna confided in a friend who encouraged her to attend a Workers’ Rights Clinic, the product of a partnership between the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center (LAS-ELS) and the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

Twice a month, these free clinics are hosted at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s (LASOC) headquarters in Santa Ana where trained law students and staff connect workers to community resources, assist with paperwork, and sometimes provide direct representation. “This is a great partnership. We have the employment law litigation expertise, and then LASOC helps pair clients with attorneys,” explains Senior Staff Attorney, Mike Gaitley. “I am so inspired by how LASOC recognized the need for the area and launched the program without hesitation.”

Though hesitant at first, Anna attended one of the meetings and was paired with LASOC attorney, Angela. With Legal Aid’s help, Anna was able to confidently challenge her employer and was subsequently granted the wages owed to her: $7,500.

“Employees might know their employers are doing something that violates the labor laws, but they are scared to raise their voices because of the lack of legal advocacy resources,” explains Angela. “I’m happy to have been able to help our client understand that her complaint was reasonable and that she should fight for her entitled wages.”

LASOC’s goal is to partner with programs such as LAS-ELC to pool resources, tools, and expertise to empower and assist low-income workers, like Anna, who otherwise would be voiceless.

If you are interested in supporting our partnership with the LAS-ELC program, consider making a donation toward our organization. With your support, we can continue providing free resources and services to people like Anna.


*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Recognizing Over 55 Years of Service

Recognizing Over 55 Years of Service

VFJ Logo color

Mary Thompson noticed a posting at a courthouse for a domestic violence prevention program offered by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC).  She had barely survived the past four years of physical and sexual abuse. Fearing for her eight year-old daughter’s safety but lacking the funds to hire an attorney, Mary sought the assistance of LASOC.

After two and a half years of drafting pleadings and attending hearings, LASOC counsel helped Mary obtain full custody of her daughter and a restraining order against her abusive former partner.

Mary is just one of 730,000 Orange County residents who cannot afford the average attorney’s billing rate of $370 per hour. One hour of counsel would cost individuals like Mary a week of minimum wage work, forcing them to reluctantly choose between paying for legal services and feeding their families.

Since its incorporation in 1958, LASOC has been voicing the legal concerns of low- and moderate-income clients in courtrooms across Orange County and Los Angeles County. What once started as a small office has since grown into the largest legal support center in the county, offering a full range of legal services.

Each year, LASOC receives 52,000 requests for assistance—from veterans who have been wrongfully denied government benefits to low-income families who face unlawful eviction.

The organization bears the legal burdens of low- and middle-income community residents when it can. However, as the demand for legal aid services surpasses its available resources, LASOC is forced to turn away three out of every four people. This service gap—a gap between those who seek legal aid and those who actually receive it—continues to grow.

While LASOC wishes to celebrate its five and a half decades of service, it acknowledges, more importantly, that there is still much work to be done. In an effort to bridge the service gap, LASOC presents the inaugural Voices for Justice Dinner and Fundraiser at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach on Wednesday, October 8, 2014. All proceeds from the event will help expand LASOC legal services for communities in need.

Voices for Justice will honor the work of Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, the Honorable Sheila P. Sonenshine (Ret.), and former LASOC Director of Litigation Crystal C. Sims. Each honoree has made invaluable contributions to the field of legal services on behalf of low-income communities.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez was one of the first congressional supporters of the launch of the I-CAN!® E-FILE system in 2002. She supported the use of the web-based program to assist low-income families and seniors with filing their federal income taxes electronically. The free program guided participants through the nuances of tax preparation, claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and securing expedited refunds. With Congresswoman Sanchez’s support, LASOC enabled low-income families and seniors to claim over $800 million in refunds. LASOC/CLS will honor Congresswoman Sanchez with the Outstanding Community Service Award.

Hon. Sheila P. Sonenshine (Ret.) served 17 years as a justice for the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Three. While attending UCLA, she worked for Neighborhood Legal Services in Venice as the organization’s first employee. The experience was the beginning of her long-time commitment to pro bono work. LASOC will honor Hon. Sheila P. Sonenshine (Ret.) with the Access to Justice Award.

Crystal C. Sims has dedicated over 38 years to the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC), starting as a staff attorney in 1975 and eventually serving as Director of Litigation and Training until her retirement in 2013. While working at LASOC, she represented a range of clients—from low-income tenants who had a right to better living conditions to homeless individuals whose rights had been violated by various jurisdictions.  Crystal is well-known for her work on advancing affordable housing development throughout Orange County.  LASOC will honor Crystal Sims with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.