How lawsuits are forcing cities to face their homeless issues

Curtis Gamble used to sleep sitting up on a bus bench.

Before dozing off, the unemployed homeless former bus driver followed the same routine: Wary of being rousted from his spot, he’d pull the curved brim of his baseball cap low over his brow so nobody at the Fullerton Transit Center could tell that his eyes were closed.

In December, Gamble’s fortunes took a turn when he settled a lawsuit against the city of Fullerton that Legal Aid Society of Orange County initially filed on behalf of another homeless man. Gamble, who joined the lawsuit in 2015 with friend James Mayfield, was awarded $20,000 – enough to rent a studio apartment into next year.

But more importantly, he says, the deal with the city included provisions aimed at helping other homeless people, including a $1 million commitment toward housing for people with extremely low incomes, installation of portable toilets at the transit center and zoning rules that could enable homeless shelters to be built in more locations around the city.

“It’s good to see the city officials cooperate with us now that we have lawyers,” said the 56-year-old Gamble, who had been homeless since losing his work seven years ago. “Before, they would not take us seriously.”

To Gamble’s legal advocates and others, the outcome also illustrates how lawsuits brought on behalf of homeless people increasingly are being wielded in Southern California and elsewhere not just as punitive measures that win judgements for…

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