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Los Angeles passes measure limiting homeless encampments

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Los Angeles passes measure limiting homeless encampments

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Los Angeles City Council on Thursday passed a comprehensive anti-camping measure to remove widespread homeless camps that have become an eyesore across the city.

The move has been billed as a compassionate approach to getting people off the streets and restoring access to public spaces in the city with the second largest homeless person in the country, though critics said it would criminalize the problem.

“I have no reason why we would not join together to support what the people of Los Angeles want us to do,” said Councilor Paul Krekorian, co-author of the action. “Restore order to our streets while elevating those in need and providing services.”

Among other things, the ordinance passed 13-2 would prohibit sitting, lying, sleeping, or storing personal property, moving sidewalks, streets, and bike paths near driveways, hydrants, schools, daycare, libraries, and homeless shelters Parks blocked.

It would not be enforced in some places until someone turned down an offer for accommodation and the council made a decision to lock the room, put up signs and give two weeks notice to cancel. It could be enforced immediately if a person or tent blocks the disabled access guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act or puts themselves or others in danger, for example by blocking a loading dock.

The move, which requires a second vote in late July, replaces a more punitive anti-camping proposal that stalled in a committee. Under the approved regulation, the police would only intervene in the event of criminal offenses, and those who refused to leave would be fined rather than arrested.

The majority of callers supported the measure during a limited public comment period, describing encounters with the homeless that included assault and break-ins and one explaining how children who go to school are forced to tents on a busy street to avoid on the sidewalks.

People who resisted the measure, including a couple who used profanity, said the lack of compassion and criminalization of an issue the city failed to resolve.

The meeting was closed to the public due to coronavirus restrictions, but a group of homeless lawyers protested outside City Hall.

Pete White of the LA Community Action Network said the measure is loosely written to allow for broad interpretation for enforcement and will close most of the city to people who live on the streets.

“Draconian is definitely the right word,” he said. “It is impossible to comply.”

White said a regulation restricting RV parking and sleeping in cars overnight barely left more than 5% of streets available for parking.

California is home to more than a quarter of the country’s homeless, according to federal data, and has reached a crisis point in many cities. There is deep disagreement about how to solve a problem that goes beyond economics and is often complicated by mental illness and addiction problems that require treatment and can lead people to accept housing.

The city of Los Angeles is estimated to have more than 40,000 homeless people, ranking second only to New York.

Warehouses have grown steadily over several years and often span entire blocks. They can include grills, couches, lounge chairs, and even a shower. Many are crammed with belongings, collected rubbish and covered with tarpaulin.

A federal judge ordered the city of LA to shelter thousands of homeless people on Skid Row through this fall, despite the U.S. 9th appeals court putting it on hold.

The appeals court ruled separately that cities cannot make it a crime for the homeless to sleep on the street if alternative accommodation is not available.

Leading Republican candidates trying to replace Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election came to LA County this week to announce their plans to resolve the nationwide problem.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer called for more housing, while rival businessman John Cox said people who insist on sleeping on the street should be detained or forced to seek treatment.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, has proposed a “right to housing” that would require the city to provide housing for all residents.

While the crisis is rife across Los Angeles, a dispute over how to solve the problem has recently become a hotspot on Venice Beach, where a warehouse exploded during the coronavirus pandemic.

The situation has made residents tired after several violent incidents and worried about their safety – and the well-being of the people in the camps. A homeless man was arrested last week while killing another homeless man who was knocked down in his tent on the beach.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose deputy patrols unincorporated parts of the county, entered town with a homeless team to announce a plan to move people into apartments by July 4th.

His grand overture, which drove some people off the boardwalk but is unlikely to reach its destination this weekend, met resistance from much of the LA political establishment, particularly Councilor Mike Bonin, whose borough includes Venice.

Bonin, who criticized an approach that could result in jail time if people don’t leave, launched his own plan days later. This measure, which brought 64 people indoors, will be rolled out in several phases by August and promises to ultimately create permanent living space.

Bonin rejected the ordinance Thursday, saying the city doesn’t have tens of thousands of beds for the homeless and criticized the plan for not showing where people can sleep.

Bonin, recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, revealed that he lived without a home and slept on the beach in his twenties when his car was in a store or he couldn’t crash into a friend’s house.

“I can’t tell you how much turmoil there is in your heart when the sun goes down and you don’t know where to sleep,” said Bonin. “I cannot describe how demoralizing and dehumanizing and defeating this experience is if you don’t know where to sleep.”

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the measure will require a second vote later this month, not next month.