Los Angeles considers stricter limits on homeless camping

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles city leaders are poised to pass sweeping restrictions Thursday on one of the nation’s largest homeless populations, making it illegal to pitch tents on many sidewalks, beneath overpasses and near parks.

The measure before the City Council is billed as a humane approach to get people off streets and restore access to public spaces, and it wouldn’t be enforced until someone has turned down an offer of shelter. It would severely limit the number of places where homeless encampments have been allowed to grow and become a common sight across the city.

“There are right ways and wrong ways to disrupt the status quo and improve conditions on the street,” Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, coauthor of the measure, said in a statement. “I am governed by a fundamental position: Before the unhoused are restricted from occupying public space, they should be … offered a suitable alternative for housing.”

Among other limits, the ordinance would ban sitting, lying, sleeping or storing personal property on sidewalks that block handicap access, near driveways and within 500 feet (152 meters) of schools, day care centers, libraries or parks.

The measure, which was unexpectedly announced at Tuesday’s meeting, would replace a more punitive anti-camping proposal. Police would only get involved if there’s a crime, Ridley-Thomas said.

An advocate for the homeless said the measure is loosely written to allow broad interpretation for enforcement and will make most of the city off-limits to people living on the street.

“Draconian is definitely the correct word,” said Pete White of the LA Community Action Network. “I think it’s impossible to comply.”

White said that an ordinance that limited where people could park RVs and sleep in cars overnight left little more than 5% of streets available for parking.

Homelessness has become a crisis of “epic proportions,” the measure says. It remains near the top of political agendas across the state.

California is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless people, according to federal data. The city of Los Angeles has an estimated homeless population of more than 40,000.

A federal judge directed the city of LA to offer housing to thousands of homeless people on notorious Skid Row by this fall, though an appeals court put that on hold.

Two Republican candidates seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election came to LA County this week to announce their plans to address the statewide problem.

While the crisis is widespread across Los Angeles, a dispute about how to solve the problem has become a flashpoint on Venice Beach, where an encampment exploded in size during the coronavirus pandemic and has left residents weary and worried for their safety after several violent incidents.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose deputies patrol unincorporated parts of the county, entered city turf with a homeless outreach team to announce a plan to get people into housing by July 4.

His lofty overture, which has moved some people off the boardwalk but is unlikely to meet his goal by this weekend, was met with resistance from much of LA’s political establishment, particularly Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice.

Bonin, who criticized an approach that could lead to housing at the jail Villanueva runs if people don’t leave, launched his own plan days later. That effort is being rolled out in several phases into August and promises to move people into temporary shelter and then permanent housing.

Bonin was among councilmembers opposing the measure Tuesday in the 12-3 vote, saying the city doesn’t have 20,000 beds needed for the homeless. He also said the plan should show where sleeping and camping would be allowed.

If the measure doesn’t receive unanimous approval on Thursday, it will face a second vote later in July before it can take effect.

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