L.A. votes to get more ag­gres­sive on home­less camps

‘I’m very sen­si­tive to the need to pro­tect the con­sti­tu­tional rights of home­less peo­ple … but public spa­ces are public.’ — Joe Bus­caino, L.A. coun­cil­man

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Gale Hol­land

The Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil voted Tues­day to make it eas­ier for author­i­ties to break up the en­camp­ments that have mush­roomed across South­ern Cal­i­for­nia along with the ris­ing home­less pop­u­la­tion.

The coun­cil gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to two or­di­nances that would sharply re­duce the warn­ing time home­less peo­ple have to move their pos­ses­sions. The laws — one cov­er­ing parks, the other side­walks — also would per­mit of­fi­cials to im­me­di­ately re­move couches, chairs and over­sized tents.

The more ag­gres­sive tac­tics come amid com­plaints that the en­camp­ments are un­safe and un­sightly. Tran­sient en­camp­ments and car camp­ing grew 85% coun­ty­wide in the last two years, while the city’s home­less pop­u­la­tion grew 12%, to 26,000, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by the Los An­ge­les Home­less Ser­vices Au­thor­ity.

Coun­cil­man Gil Cedillo, who cast the lone op­po­si­tion vote Tues­day, said the mea­sures would per­pet­u­ate a failed strat­egy of crim­i­nal­iz­ing the home­less pop­u­la­tion.

“We spend $100 mil­lion on home­less­ness, and 85% of our re­sponse is law en­force­ment,” he said. “That tells us our strat­egy is not work­ing.”

Coun­cil­men Cur­ren Price and Joe Bus­caino said the mea­sures strike the right bal­ance be­tween up­hold­ing home­less peo­ple’s rights and the public’s de­sire for safe, clean parks and streets.

“I’m very sen­si­tive to the need to pro­tect the con­sti­tu­tional rights of home­less peo­ple … but public spa­ces are public,” Bus­caino said.

The city over the years has tried a va­ri­ety of strate­gies to rein in home­less­ness, in­clud­ing a law en­force­ment crack­down on skid row qual-

ity-of-life in­frac­tions called the Safer Cities Ini­tia­tive. But home­less num­bers have grown steadily over the last four years.

The city also has a long and largely un­suc­cess­ful history of lit­i­ga­tion over its home­less strate­gies. A court in­junc­tion lim­its the city’s abil­ity to seize and de­stroy home­less peo­ple’s be­long­ings.

Un­der a 2007 court set­tle­ment, the city was barred from en­forc­ing a ban on overnight side­walk sleep­ing un­til it built 1,250 units of sup­port­ive hous­ing for the home­less, with half of those units down­town. The set­tle­ment fol­lowed a fed­eral court rul­ing that the city’s home­less sweeps amounted to cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment.

City hous­ing of­fi­cials say they ex­pect to com­plete con­struc­tion as soon as Septem­ber, but home­less ad­vo­cates are chal­leng­ing the city’s claim that the units will sat­isfy the set­tle­ment agree­ment.

The city, by a broad con­sen­sus, does not have a frac­tion of the hous­ing needed to shel­ter all the home­less. Alice Cal­laghan, a long­time skid row ad­vo­cate, said the new mea­sures would drive home­less peo­ple un­der­ground.

“They’re only con­cerned where the vis­i­bil­ity of the home­less has be­come a prob­lem,” she said. “They don’t care about home­less peo­ple.”

Skid row ac­tivists had a mixed re­ac­tion to the new or­di­nances, say­ing they are writ­ten so broadly that their ef­fect could vary widely depend­ing on how they are en­forced.

Gen­eral Jeff Page said many skid row res­i­dents would be happy to see the mess from over­flow­ing side­walk shan­ty­towns re­moved. The neigh­bor­hood his­tor­i­cally did not have large en­camp­ments un­til the city let it hap­pen, he said, adding, “This is a prob­lem of the city’s mak­ing. Hous­ing stor- age and ser­vices is what the city needs.”

Jeffrey Briggs, a lawyer who is part of a coali­tion seek­ing to elim­i­nate home­less­ness in Hol­ly­wood, said clear­ing the side­walks is an im­por­tant com­po­nent of get­ting home­less peo­ple housed.

“Side­walk en­force­ment ef­forts greatly aid the ef­fort” to keep home­less peo­ple from tak­ing over public pas­sage­ways, he said in an email.

The new mea­sures, which must be rat­i­fied by a sec­ond vote, cut the warn­ing time for home­less peo­ple to move their be­long­ings to 24 hours from 72 hours, and al­low city crews to take any­thing that won’t fit in a 60gal­lon city trash re­cep­ta­cle with­out no­tice. Vi­o­la­tions will be pun­ish­able by ci­ta­tion or mis­de­meanor charges.

Seized prop­erty will be stored for 90 days at a ware­house, where own­ers can re­claim it. The coun­cil asked City Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fi­cer Miguel San­tana to rec­om­mend a re­gional strat­egy for ware­hous­ing home­less peo­ple’s be­long­ings, but for now, the only city-run stor­age fa­cil­ity is on skid row.

“It looks like, once again, the city is go­ing to put en­force­ment way ahead of ser­vices,” said civil rights at­tor­ney Carol So­bel, who is in me­di­a­tion with the city over the pos­ses­sions in­junc­tion.

Coun­cil­man Mike Bonin, who rep­re­sents Venice, said the or­di­nances were both too soft and too harsh. He pro­posed sev­eral amend­ments, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing the mis­de­meanor penalty and al­low­ing author­i­ties to re­move items block­ing side­walks with­out ad­vance no­tice.

Bonin’s sug­ges­tions will be re­ferred to the coun­cil’s new home­less­ness com­mit­tee, whose first meet­ing is set for Thurs­day.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Herb Wes­son did not al­low public com­ment on the two mea­sures Tues­day, though protesters spoke at ear­lier hear­ings. Peo­ple hop­ing to ad­dress the coun­cil waited three hours as mem­bers con­ferred with le­gal coun­sel be­hind closed doors.

“We had half a room­ful of peo­ple who wanted to be heard,” Page said. “That’s not fair.”

Be­fore the meet­ing, the Los An­ge­les Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Net­work, an anti-poverty group, and other skid row ac­tivists staged a demon­stra­tion out­side City Hall, tot­ing brown pa­per bags with slo­gans in­clud­ing “Public Space for All” and “Boo!”

Louise Mbella, Down­town Women’s Ac­tion Com­mit­tee sec­re­tary, said the new or­di­nances are “just cruel.”

“If you negate the right to oc­cupy public space to cer­tain hu­man be­ings, don’t call it public,” Mbella said.

‘I’m very sen­si­tive to the need to pro­tect the con­sti­tu­tional rights of home­less peo­ple … but public spa­ces are public.’

— Joe Bus­caino, L.A. coun­cil­man

Pho­tog raphs by Katie Falkenberg Los An­ge­les Times

SUZETTE SHAW, part of the L.A. Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Net­work as well as a skid row res­i­dent, ap­plauds af­ter City Coun­cil­man Gil Cedillo spoke against pro­pos­als that make it eas­ier to seize home­less peo­ple’s be­long­ings.

MEM­BERS of an anti-poverty group tote brown pa­per bags dur­ing a demon­stra­tion Tues­day out­side City Hall be­fore the City Coun­cil vote.

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