HOMELESS POLITICS - On Oct. 27, Councilman Joe Buscaino submitted three motions asking the Los Angeles City Council to ban homeless people from sitting, sleeping or lying down at 161 locations in council district 15.
The council has not yet acted on them. This came only a week after the council’s Oct. 20 decision to ban homeless people from sleeping at 54 sites in the city, 11 of which were in CD15.
In a press release on Oct. 27, Buscaino claimed that his office has housed most of the people in CD15 who live in large encampments by offering them transitional housing.
This appears to be at odds with what Gabriela Medina, district director for Buscaino, said at the Nov. 2 meeting of the CD15 Working Group on Homelessness. She said that as of the January 2020 homeless count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were 2,257 homeless people in CD15. Of those people, 1,219 lived on the street, while the rest lived in their vehicles.
“Of those people experiencing street homelessness, 343 are housed in interim sites, 147 have been permanently housed, bringing us to 490,” Medina said. “So through our collective efforts, we have housed 40% of the people experiencing street homelessness as of the count of January 2020.”
Nevertheless, Buscaino used his claimed success as a reason for banning the sites.
“It is now my intention to ensure that these areas remain clean and safe, and are not repopulated by new encampments,” Buscaino wrote. “This is why I am introducing these new locations where street living will not be allowed.”
Kenneth Mejia, candidate for LA city controller in the 2022 election, tweeted on Nov. 2 that the city council voted to reallocate $2 million from the “Additional Homeless Services” fund for the printing and installing of the anti-camping signs.
Medina said she did not have a budget for how much it would cost to install signs at 161 locations in CD15.
Chris Venn, one of the founders of San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice, vehemently disagreed with this strategy for handling homelessness.
“This is hurting people,” Venn said. “This approach of coming into unhoused communities, criminalizing people, disconnecting them from resources, is a part of the reason why we’re seeing six unhoused people a day die. So, I do not see this as a solution, that Buscaino is marketing this as if we do not have a problem.”
Venn criticized Buscaino for downplaying the amount of homeless people in CD15.
“This does not feel like a solution, it feels like eradication,” Venn said. “It feels like banishment. His pointing to unhoused communities in San Pedro is making San Pedro look like a poster child in terms of a solution to homelessness.”
Venn said he has worked in a number of encampments in CD15.
“I don’t see criminals,” Venn said. “I see a system that’s criminalizing poor people.”
At the Nov. 2 meeting of the CD15 Working Group on Homelessness, Laurie Jacobs, community activist and former vice president of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, asked some questions about the enforcement of the new laws.
“With some of the bills that Councilmember Buscaino is putting through, concerns I have is if you have somebody who absolutely refuses services for whatever reason, or they don’t like the idea of going to the shelter that’s been offered to them, what will happen?” Jacobs asked. “Will they be jailed? Will they be fined? What’s the plan?”
The question flustered Medina.
“I don’t want to answer that question because I know that the conversation of arrest was a very contentious one during council,” Medina said. “And right now that you put me on the spot, I think I’m getting nervous and I can’t remember what the answer is.”
Medina said that the street strategy report has specific instructions but did not specify what those were. However, she later said in an email the document she was referring to was ordinance number 187127, which replaces section 41.18 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, or LAMC, which is about the enforcement of anti-camping. According to that ordinance, anyone who willfully refuses to comply will be subject to penalties set forth in LAMC 11.00, which states: “Every violation of this Code is punishable as a misdemeanor unless provision is otherwise made, and shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period of not more than six months, or by both a fine and imprisonment.”
The city council has seven steps it is supposed to take before it can put up anti-camping signs. Those steps include engagement, which means workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA, speak with homeless people and offer them temporary housing. The steps also include a clean-up, which involves city workers, including police, forcing homeless people to throw away most of their stuff. After all homeless people are removed, the city puts up signs saying that they are banned from sleeping within a certain distance. The 11 locations the city council has already approved in CD15 are near homeless shelters, and homeless people cannot sleep within 1,000 feet of them. The 161 locations that Buscaino wants the city council to ban are schools, parks, day care centers and libraries, as well as a drainage channel and freeway ramp. If Buscaino is successful, homeless people will not be able to sleep within 500 feet of these places.
“We understand that 161 resolutions [are] going to take some time,” Medina said. “However, we want to make sure that all of our locations were properly submitted. And then now … we’re putting them in order of priority for LAHSA to go out start doing the outreach for all of those.”
Medina said that most of the 161 sites do not have homeless encampments, and that this is an attempt to prevent them from gathering there. She said the city council could potentially take action on the signs there within 30 days.
“But because we have so many, I would assume maybe the team can address 10 to 20 locations a month,” Medina said.
In the Oct. 27 press release, Buscaino said the complex process of choosing individual addresses is too slow and bureaucratic.
“This is why I have introduced a ballot measure to have one city-wide easy-to-understand rule that emphasizes housing followed by enforcement,” Buscaino wrote.
San Pedro resident Steve Casares said that anti-homeless groups have supported anti-camping laws, not realizing they would apply to everyone, not just homeless people.
“Making this precedent, even if it is limited to specific areas, is still dangerous,” Casares wrote.
He argued that law enforcement should not be used to address social issues like homelessness, drug use and mental illness. Buscaino is a former officer of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“We have used police against the homeless for 50 years,” Casares wrote. “Politicians will try helping the homeless with actual services for 2 years, and then say ’Well, time to use police again.’ Another reason why we need to stop electing police officers and police friendly politicians to office.”
San Pedro resident Felicia Gray said that she approves of Buscaino’s motions if they will move encampments. She moved to San Pedro in February 2021, but she says she will probably leave when her lease is up in May 2022, principally because of the area’s homelessness and crime.
“I pay a lot of money to live here,” Gray wrote. “They are allowed to set up tents, strewn with trash and who knows what, to take over the streets. It takes away from the attractiveness of the place.”
San Pedro resident James Dusenberry called Buscaino’s motions “disgraceful.”
“He should be working to find 161 locations to house people rather than trying to ban people’s existence in his district,” Dusenberry wrote. “He’s trying to keep them out of sight and out of mind rather than help these men, women, and children who are our family and need our help desperately.”
(Hunter-Chase is a Reporter at Random Lengths News with experience creating and editing content for print and online. Author of more than 60 articles over the last two years. Experienced in proofreading other people’s writing and collaborating with others to create the best content.)