Attorneys said Wednesday they may take legal action if Los Angeles city leaders fail to rescind a recently adopted ordinance that makes it easier and faster for the city to dismantle homeless encampments and confiscate transients’ belongings.
Attorneys for the Los Angeles Community Action Network – a Skid Row-based organization that advocates for low-income and homeless people – sent a 17-page letter on Tuesday to city officials detailing their concerns about the ordinance, which they say is “unconstitutional” and contains the “same legal defects” of an earlier law that was struck down in court.
The measure shortened the noticing period from 72 hours to 24 hours before belongings on sidewalks and other public areas can be confiscated and imposes criminal penalties for non-compliance.
“We urge you to withdraw the ordinance and avoid subjecting the city to ongoing legal liability,” attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson and Public Counsel wrote.
The letter was sent to Councilmen Jose Huizar and Maqueence Harris-Dawn, co-chairs of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which was meeting Wednesday to discuss proposed amendments to the ordinance.
Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, said the office is “currently analyzing the letter.”
The ordinance was adopted by the City Council earlier this year and went into effect in July without Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature.
LACAN activists urged Garcetti to veto the ordinance, but the mayor responded that he had assurances from the City Council that it would amend the measure. He also said he instructed city officials to suspend enforcement of the law until the amendments are in place.
The activists maintain that Garcetti has limited authority to put enforcement on hold, and LACAN’s attorneys said Wednesday the proposed amendments now being considered will not sufficiently improve the ordinance.
The ordinance “is unconstitutional and the proposed amendments do nothing to change that fact,” LACAN’s attorneys wrote. “The City Council should reconsider and rescind its passage of the ordinance as soon as possible and consider means to address the problem that are humane as well as constitutional.”
The attorneys contend the law will lead to the “unreasonable” seizure of personal belongings, and a “proposed amendment removing specific reference in the definition of ‘Personal Property’ to ‘personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items’ will have absolutely no legal effect.”
“Such items will still constitute ‘tangible property’ and personal property as that term is understood in our laws,” the attorneys wrote, adding that the ordinance would also allow “the confiscation of medication and critical documents.”
“By seizing those possessions, the city affirmatively places homeless people in danger and exposes itself to danger-creation liability,” according to the attorneys, who also maintain that provisions for notifying people before items are confiscated are “constitutionally deficient.”
The ordinance would make failing to comply with the ordinance “even when compliance is impossible” a criminal act, the attorneys say, and would also lead to “severe consequences for immigrants, in particular for those otherwise eligible to seek deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA); family members of citizens and permanent residents seeking adjustment of status; and applicants for naturalization.”
The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday gave tentative approval to rules for dismantling homeless encampments and removing personal property left on sidewalks and in city parks.
Under the current process, the city gives 72 hours notice before removing personal items. The two ordinances tentatively backed by the council Tuesday would shorten the notice period to 24 hours, and the city would be required to store the belongings for 90 days.
If the items are not claimed, the property may be discarded.
No notice would be needed for the removal of bulky items from sidewalks and parks, under the rules.
One of the ordinances applies specifically to items left at city parks. It would allow officials to remove personal items that remain at city parks — including beaches — past closing time and when there is already a sign at the park stating that leaving behind items is prohibited.
If there is no sign, the city would need to give 24 hours notice before items are removed.
A second ordinance for sidewalks would ban tents from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but would allow the homeless to set up tents to use as shelter at night.
If the city does not have enough space to store the items left on sidewalks, officials would not be allowed to remove them, city attorneys said.
Under both ordinances, any item that is a health or safety risk — such as something that could spread disease, contains vermin, or is a dangerous weapon — would be discarded without any advance notice. Items considered contraband or evidence of a crime could also be removed by the city without notice, under the rules.
The ordinances are being considered as city officials work to reach a settlement in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city by several homeless people. The case led to an injunction that prevents the city from removing the belongings of the homeless.
Councilman Jose Huizar said getting rid of the injunction “is a critical piece in getting a better handle” on homelessness in the city. The city has also put more money into homelessness response teams and sanitation crews, he said, adding that “we’ve got to build more housing.”
“But in the meantime it’s important for us to move forward and settle (the lawsuit), and get a better ordinance that would deal with items improperly left on public rights of way,” Huizar said.
He added that he is “not too comfortable with the timing” of the ordinances, “but we do have court requirements, settlement discussions that are happening, so we have to move forward with something.”
“I don’t think it’s a perfect ordinance,” he said, and he hopes to further discuss the rules in the City Council’s newly formed homeless committee, which will hold its first meeting later this month.
He said the rules adopted Tuesday would “establish some conditions” so the city can reach a settlement in the lawsuit, but he hopes to adjust them to “strike a better balance” between the rights of the homeless and residents concerned about safety and cleanliness.
Last month, Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores told the city’s Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee the current rules for removing items are too broad, and make it a “crime to leave personal belongings on a sidewalk.”
Flores said the new rules would “strike a balance by decriminalizing certain homeless individuals who need to set their belongings down, versus … the current ordinance which makes every placing of the items on the sidewalk considered a crime.”
Councilman Mike Bonin, who will chair the homelessness committee, said that because of the city’s inability to deal with homelessness over the past 10 years, “we are now a city of encampments.”
City officials said the latest homeless count in Los Angeles County found there was a 12 percent increase in the homeless population, and an 85 percent jump in the “number of tents, makeshift encampments” and “vehicles occupied by homeless people.”
Bonin said the new rules succeed in that they shorten the notification period and no longer make it a crime just to set an item down in public.
But he said the ordinance fails because it makes it “too easy to seize someone’s personal belongings, such as prescriptions and their personal documents,” while also not being strong enough to allow the city to clear public walkways in order to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Since the votes were not unanimous, with Councilman Gil Cedillo casting the lone dissenting vote, the ordinances backed Tuesday must return to the council for a final vote.
Council members also introduced amendments to the ordinances Tuesday, mostly to refine them and further define what is considered a “bulky item,” which the city would be allowed to remove immediately, under the rules.
Those proposals will be considered by the homelessness committee.
Homeless advocates who gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday spoke out against the new rules, saying the city should do more to provide housing instead of spending money to build storage facilities to hold the belongings of the homeless.
The city currently stores confiscated items in downtown’s Skid Row area.
Struggling to push the bicycle loaded with his belongings along the bumpy path carved out of the brush next to the Arroyo Seco channel in Highland Park last week, a homeless man grumbled he was being forced to leave the encampment that was his home.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do! I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he said as he pushed his bike through a hole cut in the wire-mesh fencing next to the Avenue 57 exit on the Arroyo Seco Parkway-110 Pasadena Freeway.
Lea este artículo en Español: Indigentes Son Removidos del Canal de Arroyo Seco
He was one of more than two-dozen homeless people removed from illegal encampments located between Avenues 52 and 57; invisible to many of the drivers on the freeway.
But to residents living nearby, the network of knotted tarps, tents, clothes hanging from the bushes and fencing and growing piles of trash are not only an eyesore, they’re a public safety issue.
They demanded that the city clean up the area and move the homeless out.
In response, on May 25, as required by law, the city posted signs notifying encampment dwellers that they had three days to leave and remove their belongings before the city starts clearing the area on May 28.
The city’s departments of public works, parks and recreation, officers from the Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions and the of Councilman Gil Cedillo (CD1), coordinated the cleanup.
County mental health workers and employees with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) were also called in to assist anyone wanting help: there were no takers.
“CD1 takes these complaints seriously,” Cedillo told EGP in an email. “The intent was not only to ensure the safety and livability for the surrounding community, but to also offer homeless services to the individuals living in the encampments and to get them connected with valuable social services,” he said.
About 30 people were living in the 17 encampments along the Arroyo, according to public works spokesman Jimmy Tokeshi. He said it took a day and a half to clear the 18 tons of trash and debris removed from the third-of-a-mile stretch along the freeway.
How to best deal with Los Angeles’ homeless population has sparked increased debate in recent months, from calls for more police enforcement to building more affordable housing.
Residents watching the cleanup such as Wendy Riser, said they’ve heard that some of the homeless in those encampments at some point were residents of Highland Park, but ended up on the streets because of different situations such as loosing their jobs, increase of rent, mental illness or drugs.
Several homeless in Northeast L.A. neighborhoods like Highland Park, Montecito Heights, Eagle Rock and Cypress Park have ties to the community, including family and friends who live nearby.
That was the case last week when a young woman, seeing the clearing underway, ran to the encampment in search of her mother who she told police had been living there with a boyfriend.
She wanted to know if her mother was ok, explained LAPD Officer Oscar Cassini. It’s not uncommon for relatives to know that a loved one is living at one of the homeless encampments, to keep track of them there, he said.
Some people might find that shocking, but there are lots of reasons why someone can’t take in the homeless person, Cassini said, referring to cases of mental illness or heavy drug use.
The number of people in Los Angeles living in “tents, makeshift shelters, and vehicles increased by 85% from 2013” when the number was 5,335,to 9,535 today, according to the recently released results of LAHSA’s 2015 Homeless Countdown.
Skyrocketing housing costs are a big part of the problem, claim affordable housing advocates.
According to LAHSA’s report, California’s lowest-income households spend about two-thirds of their income on housing.
The 2014 USC Casden Forecast reported that as of December 2014, the average monthly rent in the Los Angeles region was $1,716, making L.A. one of the top 10 most expensive places to rent in the U.S.
Outreach staff sent to last week’s encampment clearing spoke with 18 men and 7 women but were unable to get them to accept services, LAHSA Spokesperson Eileen Bryson told EGP by email. “Most of the encamped homeless dwellers were preoccupied with managing their personal items during the clean up,” she said.
According to Officer Cassini, many refuse offers to be placed in a shelter because they don’t like to “follow the rules.”
“Some of them do drugs and in the shelters you can’t do that,” he said, moments after taking one of the homeless men into custody on an outstanding warrant.
Bryson said crews removed a large number of illegal and dangerous items such as 117 hypodermic needles, 50 aerosol cans and 17 propane tanks.
Animal Control Services remove three chickens and a cat, she said.
Caltrans had to disconnect power lines illegally connected to light poles along the 110 Freeway, providing electricity to 6 of the encampments, Bryson said.
A passerby walking his dog found the removal activity troubling. Moving the homeless will not solve the problem, it’s “just a band aid,” said Christopher. There must be a better solution.
Cleanup of other encampments between Via Marisol and Bridewell Street along the Arroyo Seco channel started this week should be finished today, according to Tokeshi.
Crews will remove “trash and bulky items, and when appropriate store property found in the cleanup area within the framework of the court decisions aimed at protecting individual rights,” he said.
The 2015 Homeless Count report from LAHSA found that there are 25,686 people in the City of Los Angeles with no homes. In CD1 there are nearly 2,000.
An article by Jacqueline Garcia in today’s edition about the problems of many homeless living in the Arroyo Seco in Highland Park points out that even when offered services that could lead to a place to live, many of the homeless will refuse assistance.
That was the case this last week when dozens of homeless men and women were evicted from shoddy, makeshift encampments along the Arroyo Seco river channel and Pasadena Freeway.
Plagued by drug and alcohol addition, mental illness and just plain old distrust of others, it wasn’t surprising that they wanted no part of the help being offered by outreach workers trained to work with the homeless.
Some of the homeless fear their problems will keep them from being able to live with a partner or refuse a place to live because they don’t want to follow the socially acceptable rules they would be required to follow.
As true as it may be that many will continue to refuse help, it’s no reason for the rest of us to write the homeless off or to just shrug our shoulders and think nothing more can be done if they don’t want help.
The problem of homelessness is a problem that affects us all and it’s in all our interests – as a civilized society- to find the means and the resources to reduce the number of people living on the street.
Because the homeless live outside the box, we have to start thinking outside the box. Not every home has to be made up of rooms of four walls, there are other alternatives.
What about areas permitted for year-round tents, or small manufactured igloos where they could live alone, but still have shelter? There could be communal public restrooms and trash facilities, access to health and social services.
We recognize that there are potentially many problems with this idea and there’s no guarantee that tent or igloo dwellers will abide by the rules in this type of setting any more than they did while living on the street.
The point here is that we have great creative minds living among us who are finding solutions to all types of problems, innovating changes to make life better, why can’t we put some of those minds to work on the homeless issue?
It’s what we do for our pets, shouldn’t we give at least the same consideration to our fellow human beings
The number of homeless people living in a vast swath of Los Angeles County jumped by 16 percent over the past two years, according to figures released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
The agency’s biennial Homeless Count, which was conducted in January and excluded the cities of Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach, found 41,174 homeless people in the county, up from 35,524 in 2013. Despite the increase, the number of homeless veterans remained essentially flat, going from 4,007 in 2013 to 4,016 this year.
“The demand for homeless assistance has increased in Los Angeles and several recent studies have confirmed our region’s housing and affordability crisis,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “We are working diligently to target resources and interventions to create a sustainable, systemic infrastructure to house our homeless neighbors.”
“No growth in veteran homelessness demonstrates the positive impact of increased federal and local resources to house homeless veterans, but shows a serious challenge of new veterans becoming homeless,” he said. “Los Angeles has housed 7,500 veterans since 2013, but we will need to increase that rate to end veteran homelessness.”
The homeless count, which was carried out thanks to more than 5,500 volunteers who fanned out across the county, found that nearly 29,000 homeless people were not in shelters. According to LAHSA, when Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach figures are added, the county’s overall increase in homelessness from 2013 was 12 percent.
The issue of homelessness was thrust into the forefront by a pair of fatal police shootings of homeless men in Los Angeles – May 5 in the Venice area and on March 1 on downtown’s Skid Row.
“This is a combination of a policing issue and a homelessness issue,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “We’ve seen two incidents in which homeless individuals with a history of mental health challenge have lost their lives on our streets, and I think that we need to own that.”
A recent report found that the city spends as much as $100 million on homeless issues, but without a system for coordinating the programs.
“This year in my budget we have put 10 outreach teams to deal with mental health and other things in a county that only has seven total.”
Garcetti said. “So we’re going to go to 17 just based on the city’s contribution to the Homeless Services Authority to be able to go out there and really interact with those individuals and try and get them off the streets and into continuing care.
“Despite complete slashes from the federal government and the elimination of affordable housing funds from the state, we put more money into our own affordable housing trust fund to build housing to get homeless people off the streets – $10 million that we put in on top of the almost $20 million from last year,” he said.
Las hispanas que duermen en Skid Row representan un 15% por ciento del total de desamparados que pernoctan en esta área del centro de Los Ángeles, una de las zonas con mayor concentración de personas sin hogar de todo el estado.
Un informe presentado la semana pasada reveló que entre el 2010 y 2013 el porcentaje de mujeres de origen hispano que duermen en Skid Row subió dos puntos porcentuales, un dato que las ubica como el segundo grupo poblacional, por detrás de las afroamericanas.
“Muchas de estas mujeres han sufrido abuso desde la infancia y con frecuencia son víctimas de violencia doméstica”, señaló a Efe Martha Delgado, directiva de la Coalición de Acción de Mujeres del Centro de Los Ángeles (DWAC), organización que elaboró el estudio.
El análisis, el quinto de una serie de estudios similares, analizó los datos que arrojaron más de 1.300 encuestas efectuadas desde el año 2001, así como los resultados de 324 entrevistas hechas en el 2013.
Delgado destacó que el abuso sexual constituye otra de las razones que explica el aumento de las mujeres sin hogar en Skid Row. El informe presenta el caso de Laura E., una veterana de la Armada que sufrió acoso sexual desde su ingreso al servicio militar a los 23 años y fue testigo de la violación de una compañera de servicio a bordo de un buque de guerra.
“Yo siempre pensé que el asunto postraumático era para personas que han estado en el frente de batalla o habían visto una guerra, pero el hecho es que lo que yo pasé fue muy severo y me afectó”, declaró Laura.
El acoso sexual y el miedo constante a ser víctima de una violación mientras estaba en servicio -que la llevó a dormir pocas horas seguidas y con las botas puestas como medida de protección- le hizo sufrir de depresión y perder un buen trabajo que consiguió una vez retirada del servicio, según explicó en el reporte.
El informe dado a conocer por DWAC muestra que las mujeres que viven en esta zona envejece, en vista de que el año pasado el promedio de edad era de 50 años mientras que en 2001 fue de 44 años.
Del total de mujeres de Skid Row, el 85% nació en Estados Unidos, mientras que el 70 % de las encuestadas atribuyó su situación actual a la falta de vivienda accesible, lo que ha llevado a la organización a sugerir la construcción de proyectos de vivienda social.