Housing, Services, and New Laws Needed to Solve Encampments at the Bowlero

Published in the Valley Vantage- June 17, 2021

The encampment outside the Woodland Hills Bowlero is the latest to escalate into an unacceptable mess. I share the frustration of many who call and email my office. I’ve watched fire videos, seen LAPD crime reports, and personally visited the occupant of every tent and RV at that location, near Target, and at Corbin. I wish I had a magic wand or ideal services available that people would voluntarily accept — but I don’t. So what are we doing?

For starters, while I believe everyone has a right to a roof over their head, I don’t believe that everyone has a right to encamp anywhere they want. For some activists, any restriction on encampments is “criminalizing homelessness.” I disagree. While I am working feverishly to create and incentivize temporary and permanent supportive housing for local people, a lack of ideal housing shouldn’t mean that encampments continue everywhere. 

Last fall I introduced a controversial motion to prohibit camping within 500 feet of freeways or homeless services, but before people could be asked to move, they had to be offered shelter. Specifically, it amended two sections of the LA Municipal Code, 41.18 which deals with sitting, lying or sleeping in the public right of way and 56.11 which focuses on personal belongings in the public right of way. Unfortunately, even though six Councilmembers co-signed or seconded my motion, there was tremendous opposition when the ordinance drafted by the City Attorney came to the Council for a vote, and the Council President sent it back to committee for further review. I’m working to get a revised proposal to Council for a vote.

We’re opening hundreds of temporary shelter and housing units within weeks. With our two cabin communities, the Willows Bridge Housing, hotels that we bought, and other housing opportunities, we have beds for over 60% of the unhoused people on our district’s streets. That’s in addition to hundreds of units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) that I’ve approved, now under construction or soon will be. While having beds for 60% of the district’s homeless population may satisfy Judge Carter’s threshold in a pending settlement agreement, my goal remains to find beds for 100% of the unhoused population in my district. We’re opening beds faster than ever, but how do we make sure the local unhoused folks accept them?

Our best tool is consistent, persistent outreach. For years my staff and I have done weekly outreach to homeless people with (and beyond what’s done by) LA Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and non-profits. Many people want housing but often service providers don't have a bed available right away. For those with substance abuse/ mental health issues, it’s especially frustrating. Every time I meet someone who says they would like a treatment program, there is always a wait or a bureaucratic hurdle that prevents them from getting immediate help and the critical moment gets lost time after time. The City doesn’t provide drug addiction or mental health services and relies on the County for both the funding and the responsibility. 

Most people want help and if we had options at our fingertips immediately, I believe the reality on our streets would be very different. Some refuse any service or even to speak about it, no matter how many times we offer. Some folks have had enough of false hope over the years and have become numb to any hope. Others are simply held too tightly by the powerful grips of addiction or mental illness.

However, our pilot program with LAHSA and LA Family Housing to get shelter/housing for every person at our underpasses proved that when services are readily available, people say yes. We did the outreach, had available beds and treatment facilities reserved, and with no law enforcement presence, almost all the 60 people were sheltered/housed. New encampments have sadly come back at the Corbin underpass, but other underpasses remain clear for the moment. As more housing opens, we need to finally pass constitutional laws ensuring that people are connected with housing and that dangerous, sensitive sites remain free of encampments.

The City has lost in court many times regulating where people can sleep on public rights of way- we must be constitutional and consistent with the federal court’s Boise decision. Boise says people can legally have encampments if no alternatives are available. Especially when everyone who is currently encamped at a particular location is offered a genuine shelter alternative, it is not unreasonable to then prohibit encampments at that location. Creating a buffer zone is more humane than allowing people to encamp in an unsafe location or a location that creates major problems for the community. Though some don’t want to allow any buffer zones, folks who pass by the Bowlero, Corbin or certain other areas know that the Council needs to pass my measure or a similar one to escape the legal purgatory that has allowed encampments to grow.

I am expecting this issue to arise again in council. If you want to help me find shelter for people and don’t want encampments adjacent to Bowlero or near freeways/sensitive sites, I need your help to get my motion passed. If you would like to help or have questions, please never hesitate to email me at [email protected].

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  • Bob Blumenfield
    published this page in Blog 2021-06-21 14:05:31 -0700