Frequently Asked Questions About Homelessness and Crime
It is important that our law enforcement officers enforce all of the laws on the books. Over the years, various state laws, court decisions, and ballot propositions have changed how the City and LAPD interact with criminals, homeless people, and residents. In 2011, the California Legislature passed AB 109 which shifted parole supervision for certain offenders from the State to County. In 2014, voters passed Proposition 47 which converted many nonviolent offenses, such as drug and property offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors. In 2016, voters passed Proposition 57 which changed the parole and sentencing provisions across the state so that nonviolent prisoners can be released once they serve the full sentence for their primary criminal offense. Both of these voter-passed propositions save money and reallocate those funds to programs such as mental health and drug treatment. However, the net impact on crime rates remains contested and a concern.
Although these legal constraints do exist, I regularly meet with the LAPD’s local senior lead officers, chiefs, and even the chief of police himself to discuss quality of life issues and the best way to fight crime. Although I wish I could, I cannot direct the LAPD to allocate patrols to one area over another. However, when you report a crime it does help the LAPD determine where they should patrol. The LAPD patrols are data-driven and the police reports are a major factor in that process. Also, I encourage you to work with your senior lead officer (SLO), neighborhood watch and continue to report suspicious behavior to prevent any future attacks or other crimes. Your reporting will help assist the LAPD in determining problem areas and reallocating patrols. I helped launch a volunteer patrol to help increase police visibility and add more tools to the LAPD crime-fighting toolbox. To read about this, please see this press release. I will continue to advocate for more and better enforcement tools that the LAPD needs to respond to issues like these and I will continue to push for more funding for LAPD patrols. Every year I have been on the City Council we have not only increased funding, but successfully pushed for technology fixes and civilian hires that allow more officers to spend more time on patrol.
It is not illegal to be homeless and the City cannot force someone to move due to constitutional protections and court rulings. However, the LAPD does have the authority to issue citations or arrest people who are engaged in criminal behavior. I encourage you to call 911 when you see a crime occur to get an officer on the scene as well as make a police report. I suggest you work with your senior lead officers to let them know when crimes are occurring as they are the City’s eyes and ears regarding crime in our community.
If you do not want to see people on the streets, know that it is necessary that the City provide services in addition to having a law enforcement presence. Because of court decisions, the City must make services and housing available to the people living on the streets before it can enforce many of the rules regarding vehicle dwelling, tent dwelling, laying down on sidewalks, etc. Without available services, stricter enforcement will likely be ruled illegal by the courts. Although many people do not accept services, having these programs will provide arguments that will help the City defend itself against the lawsuits that inevitably will come when enforcement is ramped up.
Homelessness is the biggest crisis facing our city, and even though the numbers are fewer in the West Valley than every other part of the city, and my district is the second lowest out of all council districts, it is still a crisis. I am frustrated and saddened to see so many people without a home and to hear stories of how people lost their housing after a medical crisis, a lost job, or other personal misfortunes that can happen to anyone. Based on the 2019 Homeless Count there are approximately 36,300 homeless individuals in the City of Los Angeles. Due to Constitutional rights and protections, the City cannot force anyone to move or go someplace else for help. However, with persistence, we have helped people move out of homelessness and become productive community members with stable housing.
One of the ways we can engage with homeless people is through persistent outreach. LA-HOP is an important tool that you can use to help report the location of homeless people (https://www.lahsa.org/portal/apps/la-hop/). This system is designed to link City and County resources. When you put a request into this system, dedicated caseworkers are sent out to a homeless site. These caseworkers are trained in a variety of fields to adequately address all types of homeless situations, such as those who are just down on their luck as well as those with chronic addiction or mental illness issues. These caseworkers are persistent in their endeavor to connect with homeless people and will continue to visit a homeless site to establish a positive relationship with these folks.
For those homeless folks living in tents on the sidewalk, the City policy is guided by court rulings which have restricted many options. LAPD can request or order a homeless person to move if they violate certain laws such as the ADA requirements for sidewalks. If a tent or encampment is blocking the sidewalk then the City can enforce Ordinance 56.11 (http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2014/14-1656_misc_05-21-2015.pdf), but it does not allow for the immediate removal of property. Court related compromises have established that the City must first provide 72 hours of notice and allow a person on the street to keep a 60-gallon container’s worth of personal belongings before addressing an encampment. Nonetheless, I regularly pay for extra HOPE teams from my limited office budget. HOPE teams are comprised of Sanitation workers, LAHSA caseworkers, and LAPD officers to conduct extra encampment cleanups in the West Valley. This allows them to supplement regular work with overtime work so we can have more cleanups in our area.
There are also many great non-profits that work with the homeless as well as religious institutions. I encourage you to reach out to them as they can often use donations and volunteers. Some organizations include Los Angeles Family Housing, Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, and the West Valley Food Pantry.
I have successfully pushed to relocate Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) caseworkers who serve the West Valley into my office in Reseda to prevent them from being based only in a downtown office. Previously, these caseworkers had to go downtown or out to Mission Hills where they were based before returning to the West Valley to conduct outreach. Now they have several extra hours each day to conduct outreach. The constant contact is a very important part of our outreach strategy and, although it is true that many homeless people do not want help at first, we have noticed that repeat contact is necessary before a homeless person is likely to accept help. Often, many homeless people do indeed accept services after several contacts by social workers.
I recently helped create a new partnership between the Providence Tarzana Hospital and the Tarzana Treatment Center. This partnership, established late-2018, helps connect homeless individuals admitted to the emergency room (ER) with housing and services. Due to the initial success, this program has already expanded to two other Providence Hospitals – Burbank and Santa Monica. These are also some of the hardest to reach folks in our community, as they are often resistant to services. The new program involves trained patient navigators working in the ER and special group housing where they can heal both physically and mentally from addiction or other mental ailments.
The goal is to connect 135 homeless individuals, who enter the ER at the Providence Hospitals with needed services. The services provided vary depending on the need of the homeless individual. The program emphasizes substance abuse recovery treatment, transitional housing, primary care services, and other means to provide stability and a path to recovery for homeless people. The early metrics indicate a very successful program; the majority of patients accept some form the program’s services. Those who do not accept the program’s services often take advantage of other services such as mental health referrals and emergency shelter.
Of the 348 patients screened for the entire program so far, 139 patients enrolled in the navigation and benefits enrollment program, 20 patients started the substance use disorder treatment program, 16 patients completed the residential treatment program. A further 86 patients were linked to mental health services. 79 patients obtained emergency housing. Also, 102 patients received referrals for primary care and supportive services.
For the Tarzana-based program 63 of 141 patients screened enrolled as a participant. 13 patients completed residential treatment. 35 more patients were linked to mental health services. 27 obtained emergency housing. And 23 patients received referrals for primary care and supportive services.
In 2018, the State Legislature passed SB 1045. That bill allows the County of Los Angeles to establish a one-year conservatorship for a person who is chronically homeless and incapable of caring for his or her own health and well-being due to serious mental illness and substance use disorder. This bill was supported by the LA City Council unanimously in March of 2018. Health programs, drug and alcohol programs, mental health programs, and social services are administered by the County or State and are not directly funded or administered by the City.
The traditional shelter model does not allow homeless people to bring their property into the shelter nor does it allow people to reside during daytime hours. However, the Bridge Home model does make space for some personal property and is available around the clock to residents. These two changes alone increase the likelihood that a homeless person will accept this temporary housing, which means we are more likely to connect them with social services. The Bridge Housing program does not bring homeless people from across the city into our neighborhood. It is designed to serve the homeless people currently living in our neighborhood. Further, the primary qualification to move into a Bridge Home site is proximity to the property.
Part of the Bridge Home program is the augmentation of both sanitation and enforcement services for the neighborhoods in close proximity to the site. Each Bridge Home site is promised a dedicated Rapid Response Team which is comprised of Department of Sanitation workers and LAPD officers. These teams are sent to the surrounding neighborhood to address encampments. This will mean that once we have an operational Bridge Home location the West Valley, will receive an additional Rapid Response Team to clean our streets and enforce the law. Also, the site itself will be staffed with 24/7 on-site security. To read about the program generally use this link or read about my plans for a location in the 3rd district click here.