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Los Angeles’ New Homeless Camp Law: Human or Cruel?

A sweeping ordinance banning camping around parks, libraries and other facilities was approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council. Mayor Eric Garcetti quickly signed the ordinance, which is expected to go into effect next month.

The ordinance marks the city’s latest attempt to tackle homeless camping at a time when business leaders, neighborhood groups and others are alarmed by reduced access to sidewalks, parks and to other public spaces.

Donors have called the ordinance a more humane way to clean up camps, with outreach teams providing shelter and services before any application. Critics say he punishes people who live on the streets and argue the city should focus its energies on building housing for the city’s most needy people.

What does it do?

The ordinance prohibits sitting, sleeping or storing objects on public property near “sensitive” uses – libraries, parks, daycares and schools. But he also says enforcement in one of those locations wouldn’t happen until city council looked at each location and voted to give the green light.

Council votes would also be needed for the ordinance to be enforced on public spaces near highways, bridges, railroads and recently constructed homeless shelters. In addition, the council should weigh if the city determines that an encampment constitutes a permanent threat to public safety.

However, votes would not be necessary for all situations. Under the ordinance, municipal teams could proceed when:

  • Tents or other objects are within two feet of a fire hydrant.
  • People are seen to be sitting, sleeping, or storing goods within five feet of a usable entrance to a building or within 10 feet of a driveway.
  • Tents or other objects obstruct the street or a cycle path.
  • Camps or tents block sidewalks in a way that prevents wheelchair users from moving around, in violation of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the historic civil rights law.

Some critics said the process was too bureaucratic, saying the council should vote camp by camp on whether to apply its own law. They also warn that the law would be applied differently in different parts of the city, depending on the political views of the council member in that area.

How would that work?

Once an area is approved for application by city council, signs should be installed, followed by a 14-day public notice period. The application would be accompanied by a “street engagement strategy”, with social workers and others speaking to a particular settlement over a period of up to four months.

City policy analysts recommended assigning 17 outreach teams from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to handle this work. These teams would travel to an area before city council votes to ban camping in a particular location, according to a proposal released last week.

Once an area is cleared, outreach workers return over a three-month period to see if the homeless return. If they return, additional outreach would be conducted to promote “voluntary compliance”.

Violations of the order would be treated as infractions and could result in the issuance of citations. However, those who voluntarily resisted the application could be the subject of a misdemeanor, City Atty. said Mike Feuer.

What was the reaction?

Many homeless advocates are furious at the proposal, saying there is still not enough shelter space to serve the city’s homeless population, which topped 41,000 in the last count. city ​​official. Protesters showed up outside Garcetti’s home last week, with some throwing trash on the property and scribbling graffiti calling for the ordinance to be repealed.

Council members Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman spoke out against the law, saying the city had not prepared information on where it would be safe for people to camp legally. Meanwhile, a team of UCLA health researchers released their own online map showing many places that could be covered by the ordinance.

Chelsea Shover, assistant professor in residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said she and her students discovered that if every location identified in the ordinance was off-limits, there would be few areas left where people could. sleep or camp, especially downtown. and parts of southern Los Angeles.

In a lengthy article, Shover and two of his colleagues said the law would effectively criminalize homelessness in areas highlighted on their map.

Feuer disagreed with this view, arguing that the new law focuses on driving and not on the status of homelessness. He said he has long believed that “sensitive” places such as schools are incompatible with settlements for the homeless.

“It makes sense to say that you can’t camp next to a fire hydrant or block [wheelchair] access and so on, ”he said. “I think public spaces should be safe and accessible to everyone. “

Times writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.

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