Mon, Jul

The State of the Homeless in LA City Councildom

THE EASTSIDER - Our politicians have been either demonizing or pretending to ‘help’ the homeless in LA for quite a while.

Sadly, it appears that the LA City Council has chosen to demonize them during an election year. This week, the City. Here’s the latest. 

The City Council’s Latest Ordinance

On August 9th, the LA City Council doubled down on the demonizing solution by a massive expansion of the odious 41.18 eviction system, aka the ‘not in the voters back yard before November’ plan. 

All did not go well. Once again, the understaffed and over utilized LAPD got to play the bad guys, evicting the protesters as the meeting was gavelled closed. Sorta like a City Council equivalent of the eviction crews hired by apartment owners.  The problem is that the LAPD is already having a hard time doing their main job protecting and serving you and I. 

You can see a short video on twitter.  

As the LA Times characterized the matter. 

A Los Angeles City Council meeting erupted into chaos on Tuesday, with a public speaker climbing over a bench and charging toward Council President Nury Martinez, prompting police to fill the council floor to apprehend that person.

Officers tackled a second member of the public on the council floor moments later, while activists screamed at police and at least one audience member attempted to spray water from a bottle on officers.

Martinez abruptly recessed the meeting, leaving dozens of activists in the room chanting “Abolish 41.18!” — a reference to the city law prohibiting homeless encampments at libraries, freeway overpasses and other locations. Shortly after 11 a.m., an LAPD captain declared an unlawful assembly within the chamber, prompting scores of protesters to file out.

“I’ve never seen anything like this — ever,” Councilman Joe Buscaino said after the room had cleared. 

Why the Ordinance Only Divides

Explaining exactly why this Ordinance is divisive, controversial, and will not work, I think the statement from the Services Not Sweeps group, who were the ones ‘disrupting’ the Council Meeting, covers the issues best: 

Statement on City of LA’s Expansion of LAMC 41.18
City Council is set to approve an amendment to LAMC 41.18 that will greatly expand the number of places where homelessness is criminalized. Our coalition agrees that reducing unsheltered homelessness is extremely important. This amendment to LAMC 41.18 is bad policy. It does not reduce unsheltered homelessness across the City. It will negatively impact the lives of the unhoused and reduce the effectiveness of homelessness services and resources, while trading in the false promise of “community safety.” Expansion of 41.18 is bad policy because:

  1. It expands banishment zones just as the City’s unsheltered population is set to increase. This expansion will add at least 1,900 additional sites–a 376% increase in exclusionary zones, just as the number of temporary housing units are being reduced as COVID hotel options are ending. Additionally, good policies that have protected tenants from evictions during the Pandemic are set to expire. Since 41.18 has been implemented, unhoused death rates have increased by 25%, evidence that putting “criminalization as another tool in our toolbox” has not addressed the risks of living unsheltered. Just as inflow to homelessness and unhoused deaths are increasing while housing options are decreasing, the City is drastically investing in a policy that does not address any of these factors.

  2. It will not decrease the number of encampments; it will only move them around. Criminalization actually makes it harder to solve homelessness. We already know what works to decrease encampments: consistent outreach; linking people to a path to permanent housing; and providing resources such as bathrooms, sharps containers, and trash service. This amendment will disrupt all of those strategies. The last amendment to 41.18 was passed with the expectation of a “street strategy” with outreach workers to offer resources and shelter before enforcement. This street strategy does not exist. Instead, people will
    just be displaced, disconnecting them from existing services and support, making it harder to exit of homelessness. Without housing or support people will just return or be pushed into residential neighborhoods or concentrated in areas, likely in lower income non-white communities .

  3. It promotes a false idea of community safety and will be impossible to enforce. The City does not have enough resources to enforce the 399 marked sites that exist now, yet, this ban will cover at least 88 sq. miles of Los Angeles (20% of the entire city). Enforcement will be complaint-driven or at LAPD’s will. The City will not post signs informing people where there are camping bans, so housed and unhoused residents won’t know where camping is prohibited. This will only escalate tensions between housed and unhoused neighbors and the LAPD, who, per their own data, disproportionately use force towards the unhoused. It may also banish encampments disproportionately across the city, likely favoring white home owners, who due to their privilege, are not hesitant to call the police.

  4. The City Council is set to approve the expansion without understanding the breadth of its impact. The City has not considered the number of sites that will be included or produce a map where houseless residents can go. Council members are also not aware of how 41.18 is enforced. At the June 23rd, Homelessness & Poverty subcommittee meeting, council member Blumenfield revealed that he did not understand the current ordinance and incorrectly assumed that LAPD could not cite an unhoused person without giving them a chance to move or someplace else to go. The City Attorney’s office clarified that, “as requested by the City Council, a violation of 41.18 can in the first instance be a citation or an infraction.”

Ultimately 41.18 expansion is more legislation negatively affecting unhoused people without meeting their needs as LA community members and residents. Further criminalization and withdrawal of available public space, often close to nearby support systems, targets the unhoused rather than the roots of homelessness.
July 20, 2022

For those who would like to track the history of  Council File 20-1376-S1, you can find it here

The Takeaway

Remember, all this is in the context of Measure HHH, which back in 2016, was going to be the solution for housing the homeless. That solution wound up with the voters owning $!.2 Billion, and the homeless count was still over 40,000.  As usual, the only real outcome was an increase in the homeless population. 

I summed up the promise vs the actuality back in 2019

After a series of policy flops, like outlawing living in their own car or RV, it became clear that homeowners didn’t want the homeless living where they lived.  Ultimately, that led to the Council blaming the homeless for being homeless, and the nutso provisions of Ordinance of 41.18 emerged. With each Councilmember having control of who gets rousted within their District. 

The Ordinance in question is not going to do a darn thing to alleviate homelessness and they know it.  This is mere political fodder for November.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)