HESPERIA — The ACLU Foundation of Southern California has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Victor Valley Family Resource Center against the city of Hesperia and San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon.

The nonprofit VVFRC, which is led by founder and CEO Sharon Green, is challenging Hesperia’s attempts to “unlawfully restrict” housing and support services for “individuals with criminal records,” according to an ACLU SoCal news release.

The Hesperia-based resource center connects individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to transitional supportive housing. The suit argues that efforts by the city to shut down three transitional homes are intended to “banish residents released on probation.”

“VVFRC attempted to resolve this matter on several occasions” with the city and the Sheriff’s Department “without going to the extent (of filing a lawsuit),” Green told the Daily Press. “Unfortunately, they left us no alternative but to have a lawsuit filed.”

The lawsuit “argues that several Hesperia municipal codes which were used to target VVFRC violate both the California and U.S. Constitutions,” the ACLU said.

“The city’s efforts to shutter these homes is little more than an attempt to banish individuals with criminal records from their community,” said Adrienna Wong, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “That’s unacceptable and violates the California Constitution and the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”

Several VVFRC clients are named as plaintiffs in the suit and a city code enforcement officer is named as an additional defendant.

Green, who is also a pastor, serves on three county-based agency boards, including chair of Homeless Provider/Partnership Network, member on the Interagency Council on Homelessness and member of the Reentry Collaborative Board.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller and Hesperia spokeswoman Rachel Molina told the Daily Press their agencies could not comment on the lawsuit as they had not yet been served.

According to the ACLU letter, the county’s Probation Department currently refers individuals to the VVFRC when they have no place to go. These individuals are sent to the resource center, which provides transitional housing for up to one year, as well as meals, case management services, and permanent housing placement.

“In some cases, Hesperia enforced a code prohibiting residential structures that house more than one individual on probation who are not related by blood or marriage, violating the individual plaintiffs’ right to association,” the ACLU letter said. “One of VVFRC’s transitional homes was forced to close as a result, and the remaining homes may face the same fate.”

Last year, Hesperia Director of Development Scott Priester told the City Council the group home in the 7800 block of Chase Avenue had been vacated earlier that day after code enforcement took action on the house operated by the Victor Valley Family Resource Center and Green.

According to Priester, there were building and safety issues with the home and Molina told the Daily Press that Green chose to comply with the city by closing the facility rather than seeking to keep it open through a conditional use permit.

Last year, Green told the Daily Press that she moved her eight clients out of the Chase Avenue home for their “safety and stability” after neighbors “intimidated them and kept knocking on our door” at all hours of the day. She also shared several stories of success, including one man in his 40s who’d been on drugs since he was 9 years old and had just completed drug rehabilitation and was getting his life back together.

Green said the Chase Avenue home, which is now closed, is one of the homes referenced in the lawsuit.

The ACLU letter also alleges Hesperia “violated privacy rights by enacting an ordinance requiring landlords to provide their tenants’ personal information to the police in Hesperia for purposes of a background check and registration of tenants in a database administered by the police.”

Under the same ordinance, the city requires landlords to evict tenants if the chief of police sends a “notice of criminal activity” — even if the tenants are never convicted, charged, or even arrested for any crime, the ACLU letter said.

Hesperia’s efforts to shut down or severely limit the operations of VVFRC are a direct challenge to the state Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109), the sweeping reform package enacted to ease severe overcrowding in California’s jails and prisons, the ACLU said. AB 109 redirects state resources from building more prisons to investing in community-based programs that provide services such as transitional housing, addiction treatment, mental health counseling, job placement and more.

“The city’s stance is not only unlawful but it also undermines public safety by eliminating the kind of re-entry and sober living group homes that provide crucial services to individuals who have no other recourse,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, ACLU SoCal general counsel and director of its Dignity for All Project.

In October, the City Council approved the Crime Free Rental Housing Program that would hold tenants and owners accountable for renters' actions on their properties, and would give law enforcement officials and landlords more enforcement power over "poor renters" who cause problems, according to former Capt. Nils Bentsen of the Hesperia Sheriff’s Station.

The rental program requires all tenants to be screened through the Sheriff’s Department crime-free program and through a separate criminal background check. Owners and property managers will be notified if a prospective tenant has been in violation of the “Crime Free Lease Addendum” anywhere in the county. The decision to rent to a tenant will be decided solely by the property owner.

Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.