The Underpasses are Cleared, But for How Long?
If you’re no longer seeing people camping under the 101, it’s the successful result of an intensive location-based LAHSA pilot project to provide housing to everyone living along the freeway in my district. Alternative walkways are far away and these critical pedestrian corridors connect homes with schools, stores, houses of worship, and jobs. I’ve spent several months working in underpasses with my staff, LAHSA, LA Family Housing, and Volunteers of America. Through our efforts, those unhoused voluntarily accepted shelter without any LAPD presence.
Now the challenge is to keep these underpasses clear. Lawsuits and the lack of constitutional, enforceable, humane anti-camping ordinances have prevented the City from being able to keep these areas clear now that everyone has been given and accepted shelter.
The time is now to put an enforceable law on the books. Federal Judge David O. Carter has found that freeway underpasses are unsafe and unhealthy places to live and that the homeless people encamped there must be relocated. The City must do its part to pass a humane ordinance that will prevent camping in these underpasses after offering an appropriate alternative.
Conflict Between the City Council and Concerned Activists
To keep these underpasses cleared, six colleagues and I brought a measure to the Council last week that would update ordinances (known as 41.18 and 56.11). Unfortunately, some City Council colleagues did not offer support. The Council President postponed this vote until November 24, and I hope by then we can find common ground.
My measure would have allowed the city to enforce anti-encampment laws in specific locations. The proposal would:
- Allow buffer zones to prohibit camping or storage of belongings within 500 ft from new homeless service centers like Bridge Housing, cabin communities, and freeway underpasses.
- Necessitate a separate City Council approval (by resolution) for each buffer zone or underpass before it is made off-limits to camping. The Council would only pass a freeway underpass resolution once every person living in that underpass had been offered appropriate shelter. And, the Council would have to explicitly make findings that doing so was to promote public health, safety, or welfare.
Throughout the council discussion, members of the public voiced strong opinions. Some compared my measure to Nazi, Germany and some said that unhoused people should be allowed to set up camps anywhere, anytime.
My goal is to provide more types of housing and services, and from conversations with my constituents, I believe that will only get done if sites don't become magnets for encampments. This City needs protocols in place and if enforcement in a few occasions might be needed, we have a plan that could prioritize diversion programs and mental health services.
What Brought Us Here and How Can We Act Together?
- The well-known 9th circuit “Martin v. Boise” court decision has made it clear that general anti-camping laws are unconstitutional unless there are appropriate alternatives available.
- The LA Alliance for Human Rights has sued the City of Los Angeles and that case is currently being heard by Judge Carter. He issued an injunction ordering the City to clear out all of its freeway underpasses and provide shelter for those living there, which was vacated in favor of a City-County agreement to accelerate housing people under freeways with County funding for over 6,000 new beds.
- Judge Carter has helped forge settlement agreements for similar lawsuits in 28 other cities where they were told that it could enforce anti-camping laws once they had shelter beds for 60% of their local homeless population. 99% of the time no enforcement was necessary. He has expressed interested in forging a similar settlement agreement on a District-by-District basis.
My top priority is to advocate for more available shelters in the West Valley to get 100% of our homeless into better accommodations. Lately, I’ve worked to develop:
- A Bridge Housing site in Canoga Park slated to open this Winter
- Two cabin communities in Reseda and Tarzana that will open in the Spring
- Two Project Roomkey Hotels the City is working to purchase this year
- And much more.
As I have gone to our neighborhood councils and many neighborhood groups, I’ve spoken directly with the community and one thing is clear to me: folks who support more homeless services in their communities don’t want encampments to grow around these sites.
Now is the time to work together to create a humane policy. If you agree that we should have narrow enforcement buffers around new homeless service sites and underpasses, I urge you to make your voice heard by submitting a public comment. I also encourage you to call into the next Council meeting on November 24 when this item will be discussed. To give verbal public comment, just call 1 669 254 5252 and use Meeting ID No. 160 535 8466 at 10:00am on November 24.
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