At least three shelters serving homeless people in a county in southern California became a nightmare for their occupants, who faced unsanitary conditions and reported cases of sexual and physical abuse.

This is reported by a report of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released Thursday and in which, after a year of research in which visits and interviews were made to more than 70 people, reveals situations of abuse and neglect in emergency shelters in Orange County.

The document shows bad conditions in the facilities, where the toilets have problems with the wastewater. In addition there is no heating during the cold season and there have been floods in the rainy season. The study found that residents have lived in the midst of an infestation of rodents, worms and other insects, and that there is a continuing shortage of soap and cleaning products.

The ACLU highlighted in its report that the homeless interviewed reported being discriminated against because of their age, race, gender and disability problems. There were also allegations of sexual abuse, given that some women were required to give sexual favors in exchange for services. The researchers discovered that there was physical abuse, including elderly and disabled people who ended up in the emergency room.

Among the most disturbing violations are also the deprivation of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression or freedom of movement, given that residents were threatened with being thrown out or not allowed to leave, they reported. Employees of the shelters also confiscated, destroyed or stole belongings of the homeless.

The report comes amid an expansion of the emergency shelter system, which is intended to remove the homeless from tourist sites such as the city of Anaheim, where Disneyland parks are located. “The Orange County emergency shelters are dangerously unregulated and abusive,” said Eve Garrow, an analyst at the Southern California branch of the ACLU.

“The need for reform becomes increasingly urgent as more shelters are added to the system,” he added. The report, which was submitted to the California Attorney General, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, requests a private investigation.

“People do not give up their constitutional rights just because they have no home,” said Julia Devanthéry, an ACLU lawyer. The report includes ten recommendations to apply to both established shelters and projects that will open their doors in the coming months.

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