L.A. Considers Limiting Where Homeless People Can Camp

A man stands in front of a homeless encampment, with the Hollywood sign in the background, on Sept. 23, 2019. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

A man stands in front of a homeless encampment, with the Hollywood sign in the background, on Sept. 23, 2019. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

A proposal to greatly restrict where homeless people may camp in public places around Los Angeles drew impassioned protest Tuesday at a City Council meeting from demonstrators who say the rules would criminalize homelessness.

Council members began discussion on proposed changes to the city’s code that would prevent people from sleeping within 500 feet of “sensitive areas” such as schools or blocking right of ways such as driveways and loading docks.

During public comment, dozens of opponents voiced concerns that the restrictions would send the message that homeless people are dangerous. The meeting was briefly halted as demonstrators chanted “shame on you.” One person shouted: “It’s a police state ordinance!”

Councilman Mike Bonin sympathized with protesters and called the process “backwards.” Before the city considers legislation “to tell people where they cannot sleep,” it should focus on building much needed shelters, he said.

With close to 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, tents are clustered on sidewalks throughout the city, in vacant lots and under highway bridges. All but about 25% live on the streets.

The discussion came a week after President Donald Trump visited California and blamed the state’s homelessness crisis on “liberal” policies.

Trump said his administration “can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening” and vowed to do something about the problem.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson toured a Skid Row shelter in Los Angeles last week and called for cooperation among federal, state and local governments. But he was noncommittal about what he could offer, saying the administration was considering all options, including re-using vacant federal buildings for shelters.

Under the Los Angeles proposal, the city would bar people from lying or sitting on sidewalks in a variety of prohibited areas. It would also set enforcement provisions for people who harass or threaten pedestrians — although some council members suggested the language was too vague for setting how police issue citations or make arrests.

Los Angeles has had a law on the books regulating sleeping sidewalks since 1968. Much of it was negated by a federal appeals court ruling last year that barred municipalities from citing people for camping on sidewalks unless there is adequate shelter space available for those who are homeless.

The council took no formal action Tuesday on the proposal submitted last month by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who conceded that he’s willing to consider changes.

“We must take an honest look at this catastrophe,” O’Farrell said.

The proposal will be heard again by the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

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