Los Angeles, CA

The homeless are seeking 'human kindness' not an authoritarian city council

Jano le Roux

A contentious new anti-camping legislation has been hailed as a tool that would enable Los Angeles to clear up some long-standing homeless encampments while simultaneously guaranteeing that those who live there get housing.

Even if that is the case, the legislation may have a less-discussed consequence: giving the City Council even more authority to determine which areas of the city get targeted attention for homelessness and which do not.

The law, which is up for a second and final vote on Wednesday, makes it illegal to sit, sleep, or store items on public land near libraries, parks, daycare facilities, schools, highway overpasses, newly established homeless shelters, and other places. However, it also says that no enforcement may take place until the City Council has examined the site and granted its approval.

The rules are becoming stricter by the day with new guidance notices and more and more restrictions (Melley, 2021).

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Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

According to Elizabeth Mitchell, an attorney with the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, which is suing the city over its treatment of homelessness, this approach may compel council members to make separate enforcement votes block by block or encampment by encampment. She said that each of the council’s 15 districts would become “mini fiefdoms.”

Last month, the council passed the law for the first time, stating that enforcement would be supported by the presence of “street engagement teams,” which would include social workers, outreach workers, and others who would provide shelter and assistance. Despite this, homeless activists have expressed concern, claiming that there is insufficient shelter capacity and that the law will penalize people who live on the streets.

A group of UCLA health experts published a map online on Monday showing areas that may be affected by the ordinance.

Chelsea Shover, an assistant professor-in-residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said she and her students discovered that if every location listed in the ordinance was made illegal, there would be few places left for people to sleep or camp, particularly in downtown and parts of South Los Angeles.

Even that image is inadequate, according to Shover, since some of the locations, such as highway underpasses and building entrances, were not able to be verified.

Councilman Bob Blumenfield said he believes a location-based approach would show the public the effect of the work being done on the ground — and encourage them to support additional homeless-related initiatives. According to him, the new legislation would not make homelessness go away, but it will give council members more authority. (Blumenfield, 2021)

Sources:

Blumenfield, B. (n.d.). Facing homelessness. Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. https://blumenfield.lacity.org/facing_homelessness.

Melley, B. (2021, July 2). Los Angeles Passes measure LIMITING homeless encampments. AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/los-angeles-lifestyle-business-government-and-politics-4f1ef8aef6c1784e3b1a6193b6ed5016.

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