Stage set for sweeps of tent cities

L. A. coun­cil OKs or­di­nances al­low­ing seizure of home­less peo­ple’s prop­erty.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Gale Hol­land

The Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil gave f inal ap­proval Tues­day to an ag­gres­sive crack­down on street en­camp­ments, set­ting the stage for the f irst ma­jor home­less sweeps in the city in decades.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would sign the two or­di­nances, which au­tho­rize seizure and in some cases de­struc­tion of makeshift shel­ters and other prop­erty of home­less peo­ple. The mayor also said he sup­ported pro­posed amend­ments that would drop a crim­i­nal penalty for vi­o­la­tions and elim­i­nate med­i­ca­tion and per­sonal doc­u­ments from the list of be­long­ings that can be con­fis­cated.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Herb Wes­son said the coun­cil would take the amend­ments up soon, but he did not rule out en­forc­ing the new or­di­nances be­fore any changes go through.

“I don’t an­tic­i­pate a lot of early en­force­ment,” Wes­son said be­fore the coun­cil meet­ing, which was brief ly dis­rupted by a noisy demon­stra­tion by home­less ad­vo­cates. “It is not un­com­mon for us to move for­ward then work on re­fin­ing lan­guage.”

Garcetti did not say whether he sup­ports im­me­di­ate en­force­ment, but said

through a spokesman that he backs an or­di­nance he be­lieves needs f ix­ing be­cause ex­ist­ing law on home­less prop­erty is “legally un­ten­able.”

The new laws, which will take ef­fect as soon as they are signed and pub­lished by the city clerk, were ap­proved in re­sponse to a four- year rise in the home­less pop­u­la­tion and an 85% in­crease in car camp­ing and home­less street camps coun­ty­wide. City Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fi­cer Miguel San­tana, in a re­cent re­port, es­ti­mated that the city spends $ 100 mil­lion deal­ing with home­less­ness, more than half of it go­ing to the po­lice bud­get.

Busi­ness lead­ers praised the mea­sures as a bal­anced ap­proach to re­mov­ing un­sightly tents that block public side­walks and al­leys and pose health and safety con­cerns.

“We’re thank­ful for a new city re­sponse that’s bal­anced and re­sponds to a grow­ing public health and safety cri­sis,” said Raquel K. Beard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the busi­ness im­prove­ment dis­trict that cov­ers skid row.

Op­po­nents, in­clud­ing Coun­cil­man Gil Cedillo, who cast the lone no vote, said the mea­sures would crim­i­nal­ize home­less­ness while do­ing noth­ing to help peo­ple off the streets.

“We should have a war on poverty, not on the poor,” Cedillo told the coun­cil.

“We should be build­ing our way out of home­less­ness and not polic­ing our way out,” Pete White of the Los An­ge­les Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Net­work said at a news con­fer­ence be­fore the meet­ing. Po­lice es­corted LA CAN mem­bers out of the coun­cil cham­bers af­ter they staged a bit of po­lit­i­cal theater dur­ing the meet­ing, por­tray­ing po­lice hand­cuff­ing and haul­ing off home­less peo­ple and tak­ing their tents.

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the city’s 26,000 home­less peo­ple live in the streets. Shel­ter di­rec­tors and hous­ing ex­perts say their fa­cil­i­ties are full and there is nowhere else for home­less peo­ple to go.

The new mea­sures — one gov­ern­ing streets and side­walks, the other parks — al­low author­i­ties to take home­less peo­ple’s prop­erty on 24- hour no­tice even if they are present and claim­ing it. “Bulky” items, such as so­fas and mat­tresses, can be con­fis­cated and de­stroyed with no warn­ing. Home­less peo­ple, un­der a court or­der, can sleep in the streets from 9 p. m. to 6 a. m., but their tents must be taken down and stored in the day­time.

Seized prop­erty will be im­pounded for 90 days, but the city’s only stor­age fa­cil­ity is on skid row. Ad­vo­cates com­plain it’s a long haul for those liv­ing in other ar­eas of the city.

The mea­sures drew con­dem­na­tion from na­tional ad­vo­cates, who said the city is run­ning against the tide of rec­om­mended prac­tices in the f ight to end home­less­ness.

“It costs money to send po­lice out af­ter home­less peo­ple,” said Maria Foscari­nis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Law Cen­ter on Home­less­ness and Poverty in Washington, D. C. “What they should be do­ing is tak­ing money and putting it into hous­ing.”

The U. S. In­ter­a­gency Coun­cil on Home­less­ness in a 2012 re­port en­dorsed 24hour emer­gency ac­cess to shel­ter or “safe havens” as an al­ter­na­tive to home­less sweeps.

“Law en­force­ment en­gage­ment not only pro­vides a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion to the prob­lem, it con­trib­utes to a cul­ture of dis­trust, pit­ting in­di­vid­u­als ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness against the broader com­mu­nity,” the re­port said.

Crim­i­nal penal­ties, the re­port said, “ac­tu­ally ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem by adding ad­di­tional ob­sta­cles to over­com­ing home­less­ness.”

At­tor­ney Peter Schey, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights and Con­sti­tu­tional Law Foun­da­tion in Los An­ge­les, said im­mi­grants con­victed un­der the or­di­nance could be turned down for res­i­dency or cit­i­zen­ship. He also said the city, which has lost a long string of court de­ci­sions over its home­less en­force­ment prac­tices, runs the risk of fur­ther lit­i­ga­tion.

The coun­cil passed the new laws as ur­gent mea­sures two days be­fore the first meet­ing of the coun­cil’s new home­less­ness com­mit­tee. At its meet­ing, com­mit­tee mem­bers called for new re­strooms, showers, shel­ters and stor­age fa­cil­i­ties for home­less peo­ple, but did not iden­tify rev­enue sources. The pro­pos­als were re­ferred to staff for study.

“I don’t see how the city can ac­knowl­edge the in­vol­un­tari­ness of the home­less, make breezy po­etry about in­tent to pro­vide so­lu­tions in the dis­tant fu­ture and then feel en­ti­tled and moral to con­fis­cate peo­ple’s prop­erty in the im­me­di­ate,” said Alice Cal­laghan, a long­time home­less ad­vo­cate and di­rec­tor of a skid row school for im­mi­grants’ chil­dren.

“It’s a first step of a longer con­ver­sa­tion on the is­sue of home­less­ness, but an im­por­tant first step,” Beard, of the busi­ness im­prove­ment dis­trict, said.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

PROTESTERS from the Los An­ge­les Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Net­work, a home­less ad­vo­cacy group, speak out at a City Coun­cil meet­ing.

Katie Falkenberg Los An­ge­les Times

AN EN­CAMP­MENT un­der the 101 bridge on Al­varado Street near Echo Park. An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the city’s 26,000 home­less peo­ple live in the streets.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.