Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti backed away from two city ordinances aimed at criminalizing homelessness that were passed last week with his support.
Garcetti said he would direct city departments not to enforce to the new laws until the council has a chance to consider amendments that address concerns raised by homeless advocates. But critics said he is just stalling for time to let the controversy die down and that his proposed actions are ineffectual.
The city, faced with rising homelessness and court decisions limiting its options, passed separate ordinances governing streets/sidewalks (pdf) and parks (pdf) that empower police to take down encampments and haul away stuff with 24-hour notice. The old law required 72-hour notice. Big stuff, like mattresses and tents, can be carted off with no warning. It will all be impounded for 90 days.
The ordinances passed 12-1. Councilman Gil Cedillo cast the loan “no” vote and reportedly said, “We should have a war on poverty, not on the poor.”
Proposed amendments include killing the misdemeanor penalty, make it clearer when personal property is fair game for confiscation and exclude medications and documents from the list of stuff that can be seized. Documents could include military discharge papers, since about 4,000 of the homeless are veterans.
Gary Blasi, a former UCLA professor and homeless advocate, called the amendments “purely cosmetic” and co-wrote an Op-Ed that argued the city would save money by just housing the homeless instead of hunting them:
“The cost to taxpayers of people living on the streets and randomly ricocheting through expensive emergency rooms and jail cells ranges from $35,000 to $150,000 per person per year. The cost of housing these same individuals would range from $12,000 to $25,000 per year, even in pricey Los Angeles.”
Homeless folks—about 26,000 in L.A.—can be ticketed and fined or charged with a misdemeanor. That’s in line with the city’s general policy of using its resources to police the homeless rather than provide them services.
A report in April from the L.A. city administrative officer found that most of the $100 million Los Angeles spends annually on the homeless is for policing, not assistance. That report was commissioned by the city council after the estimated homeless population grew 9% in two years, while homeless advocates complained bitterly about the city’s lack of engagement.
“This gives police expanded authority to deal with the visibility of homelessness,” Alice Callaghan of Las Familias del Pueblo told City News Service. “Politicians have to look as if they're doing something.”
Surveys indicate that there has been a dramatic 85% increase in makeshift homeless encampments. Indications are that the ranks of the homeless are being swelled by the shrinking stock of affordable housing and that simply kicking them in the ass might not reduce their numbers.
The council moved quickly last week to pass the emergency measures, beating by just two days the first meeting of the city council’s new homelessness committee, according to the Los Angeles Times. The committee called for restrooms, showers, shelters and storage facilities, but not the kind envisioned by the city council.