As Los Angeles officials contend with how to address more than 66,000 homeless people living on the streets while keeping public safety a top concern, city councilmembers have moved to ban encampments in 54 specified areas across three districts.
During a recent city council meeting, officials voted 12–2 to restrict sitting, lying, sleeping, or storing, using, maintaining, or placing private property, or otherwise obstructing the public right-of-way in the identified areas. Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman dissented, saying the council was rushing the policy without providing proper notice beforehand.
“I don’t doubt that there has already been outreach to many of the locations that are before us today in these resolutions. I know a lot of council members did talk about the fact that outreach has been regularly happening, but we are being asked today to vote on 54 locations between these four resolutions, with no documentation for us or for the public that this step-by-step process that we just codified has been followed,” Raman said.
“Why did we pass the street engagement framework if we weren’t going to stick to it?”
Bonin echoed Raman’s concerns.
“As Roman articulated so well, there was an agreement about street engagements, and I think we need to live by that part as well,” Bonin said. “I am certain that a lot of work has been done, but it still isn’t to the level of what we committed to as a body. And I’m concerned about us losing the commitment to the street engagement strategy and not making sure that it is adequately resourced.”
According to city documents (pdf), the cost of posting signage to notify people of the impending enforcement could reach up to $2 million.
The ban is one of the many policies passed since the debate over encampments began over the summer when fires, filth, and crime erupted from encampments in Bonin’s district on the Venice Beach Boardwalk and circulated headlines.
It caught the attention of Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who deployed a team of officers to connect the homeless with housing resources and conduct cleanup efforts to clear the encampments by July 4. Bonin, who was critical of Villanueva’s involvement, then allocated $5 million in budgeted aid to fund housing programs in his district and set up outreach efforts.
Bonin’s move to fund outreach brought forth an outcry from residents who said they had tried to get his attention since the beginning of the year, to no avail. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, crime in Venice Beach skyrocketed this year.
Prior to the removal of encampments, homeless-related robberies were up 260 percent, homeless-related assaults with a deadly weapon were up 118 percent, property crimes and area burglaries were up 85 percent, and grand theft auto was up 74 percent.
The city also moved to clear encampments at Echo Park Lake over the summer, which caused an uproar among homeless-rights activists, resulting in days of protests. The most recent encampment clearing occurred on Oct. 15 in MacArthur Park as voters became increasingly worried about safety and cleanliness in public spaces.
People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), a service provider for the homeless that conducts outreach and connects people to housing, partnered with city officials during various clearings of encampment congregations to offer resources to the homeless.
“It was several months that we’ve been doing outreach there, and really in the last, I believe, couple weeks ahead of this Oct. 15 closure, that’s really ramped up engagement and outreach, and for the last two weeks we had been out there 24 hours a day between all of our outreach team members,” PATH spokesperson Tyler Renner told The Epoch Times.
“So we really like to emphasize that we have been doing this for months, and the last couple of weeks have just been in concentrated effort to get the folks that were still there connected to shelter or housing,” he said.
The number of encampments erupted across the county during the COVID-19 pandemic when city officials rolled back sanitation and enforcement on tents pitched in public spaces to ensure homeless people had somewhere to reside during stay-at-home orders.
For the other city council members, the ban on encampments is another step forward to ensure public safety. Most of the 54 areas in Councilmen Paul Krekorian, Joe Buscaino, and Bob Blumenfield’s districts that are targeted for clearing in the resolution are freeway underpasses and tunnels.
“There’s a residential area, and then on the other side of the 101 freeway, you have churches, synagogues schools, grocery stores, and people need to get from one to the other, and the underpasses are separated by a mile, sometimes a mile and a half,” Blumenfield said. “[Those are] important corridors to keep safe, clean and free of encampments so that they can be used for that, easy access. Back and forth over the years, residents have had to step out on the street to get to the other side of the 101 freeway.
“Homelessness is complex, there’s no simple solution. We’re all working to find solutions for the people living on our streets.”