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Emergency Shelter Ruling Upheld

October 2, 1987

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A court ruling giving thousands of homeless families the right to temporary shelter, which led to a newly approved $39 million state shelter program, was left intact Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

None of the justices voted to grant a hearing on the Deukmejian administration’s appeal of the lower-court ruling that interpreted the state’s emergency shelter law as applying to homeless families and not just to children who are being removed from their families.

In response to the May 1986 ruling, Gov. George Deukmejian this week signed a bill to make homeless families eligible for a subsidy of $30 a day to pay for three weeks of emergency shelter aid, with a possible one-week extension.

The bill, which takes effect next February, also provides money to help homeless families who find places to live pay their rent deposits.

The state Finance Department has estimated the annual state and federal cost of the measure at $39 million.

Robert Newman of the Western Center on Law and Poverty said the number of families already helped by the ruling since May 1986 isn’t known. But he said that in 1986, a referral hotline in Los Angeles got more than 25,000 calls for emergency shelter, with a majority believed to have come from families.

The suit involved the state’s 1982 child welfare services program, which includes provision of ″emergency shelter care″ for homeless children.

The state Department of Social Services interpreted the law as providing shelter only for children who have been removed from their families. The suit by various welfare-rights and legal-aid groups contended homeless families with children were entitled to shelter.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norman Dowds ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the department to provide emergency shelter to homeless children who were living with their families. His ruling was upheld this July by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The state’s interpretation ″contradicts and subverts the primary purpose of our child welfare laws ... promoting the preservation and protection of the family unit,″ said Justice Richard Abbe, writing for a unanimous three-member appeals court panel.

In seeking Supreme Court review, Deputy Attorney General Barbara Motz said the appellate ruling ″turned a small program for countless numbers of abused and neglected children into a housing program for homeless families.″ That ″admirable goal″ was not intended by the child welfare law, she said.

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