The Los Angeles City Council passed one of the largest anti-homeless camping measures in recent years on Thursday, with public areas in the city likely to be homeless free soon after a second vote later this month.
According to the ordinance, lying, sitting, sleeping, and storing personal property would be banned on public land that blocks sidewalks, streets, and bike lanes. Doing the same within 500 feet of a “sensitive facility” such daycare centers, driveways, fire hydrants, homeless shelters, libraries, schools, libraries, and parks would also be violations.
However, the ordinance, in most cases, would not result in the immediate removal of people in violation in some places unless the people in question first turned down a shelter offer and that the area has proper signage indicating the ban. However, the person in violation can be immediately removed if the place they are endangers themselves, such as being too near a street or loading dock, or if they are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and are blocking handicap access.
Police would not be called out unless there is a crime involved, i.e. staying after being offered shelter, with those who resist simply being fined rather than arrested.
The ordinance, which was created following years of public pressure to do something about homeless people entrenched on sidewalks and in other public areas, as well as in response to ramped up police crackdowns on homeless encampments in the past year, such as the April clearing of Echo Park, ultimately passed 13-2 on Thursday.
Supporters, which included 13 council members and the majority of citizens calling in in support of the measure during the meeting on Thursday, noted that the ordinance was more of a compassionate approach to removing people and restoring access to public areas. The homeless camp on Venice Beach, which grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, was especially noted by supporters as a reason to both help homeless people find shelter and return public areas back to the public. Other large encampments, such as Skid Row, were to have been cleared by a court order against the city that would virtually force shelter placement, but the order has been halted in the Court of Appeals since May.
“We continue to hide behind false pretenses and narratives when these folks cannot help themselves,” said LA City Council President Nury Martinez. “What about the communities of color, what about the immigrants who come to this country with absolutely nothing, working to lift their families? Why don’t they have a right to a safe park? Why don’t they have a right to a safe library? Why can’t they enjoy a day in their neighborhood?”
Other supporters highlighted the return to open public areas for LA residents and a reduction of danger for citizens in these areas.
“I can’t think of any reason why we would not unite in support of what the people of Los Angeles want us to do,” noted ordinance co-author Councilman Paul Krekorian. “Restore order to our streets, while also uplifting and providing services to those in need.”
Councilman Bob Blumenfield also responded to questions over shelter, saying “This ordinance will allow us to take some key areas, not all areas and make them off limits to encampments, but only after we have found housing for all of the people who are in that area.”
Ordinance to face another vote later this month due to not passing unanimously
However, questions over enforcement of the ordinance, especially over what would happen to those that refused the order, caused Councilman Mike Bonin and Councilwoman Nithya Raman to vote against the ordinance on Thursday. They also noted that the ordinance lacked compassion and would still criminalize the issue.
“We have in this ordinance the compliance part, but we do not have any of the compassion,” said Councilwoman Raman.
Bonin agreed with Raman and also pointed out that LA doesn’t have the shelter space to make the ordinance viable, or where they would go with so many areas now off-limits.
“I can’t tell you how much turmoil there is in your heart when the sun is setting and you don’t know where you can sleep,” added Bonin. “I cannot describe how demoralizing and dehumanizing and defeating that experience is when you don’t know where you’re gonna sleep.
“What is wrong with this ordinance today and why am I voting against it? Because what we’re doing today, even as improved, tells people who are unhoused and unsheltered and have no place to go where they cannot sleep, but it does not tell them where they can sleep. That’s what it comes down to for me where can people go, where can people sleep when they do not have an alternative.
“According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority the city only has enough beds to shelter 39% of the city’s homeless population.”
Today I shared some of my personal experience and asked “Where can people go? Where can people sleep when they do not have an alternative?” https://t.co/MEKAoR3i0R
— Mike Bonin (@mikebonin) July 2, 2021
Homeless advocates agree with Raman and Bonin on Thursday that the ordinance goes too far.
“Where the [hell] are they supposed to go,” explained homeless advocate and shelter manager Aubrey Cohn on Thursday to the Globe. “There is no way for homeless people to properly comply with this. It’s clear that LA wants them out by any means necessary, and this ordinance of proof. They don’t want to help, they just want them gone.”
While the ordinance passed 13-2, it will require another vote later his month due to council members not voting unanimously on Thursday. If passed again after the Council’s recess ends on July 27th, the ordinance would go into effect later this summer.