A recent analysis found that a proposed plan to address homelessness in Los Angeles would ban people from sleeping on at least 26% of the city’s streets and sidewalks, making it more difficult for the tens of thousands of unhoused individuals to find a place to rest.
According to an L.A. Times report published Monday, more than half of some neighborhoods would off-limits for people who bed down outdoors if the city council approves the legislation.
“The reality is we have sensitive areas to consider and as city leaders we must strike the balance between the needs of those experiencing homelessness and keeping our public spaces safe and accessible,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a progressive Democrat who introduced the measure.
As The Times recently reported:
Under the proposal, L.A. would bar people from sleeping, lying or sitting on streets and sidewalks in a list of prohibited areas. They could not sleep within 500 feet of a school, park, day care or any recently opened facility that serves homeless people – a provision that appears to be aimed at easing neighborhood opposition to new shelters and housing …
Sleeping on bicycle paths would also be off limits, along with tunnels or bridges designated as school routes. And people could not sleep in public areas with signs barring trespassing or closing times for safety or maintenance purposes. Nor could they sleep on sidewalks in crowded areas near big venues, such as Staples Center or the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The plan would replace L.A.’s existing rules against sidewalk sleeping, which have been described as out-of-date since the homeless population overtook the number of available shelter beds. The current ordinance makes it a crime to sit or sleep on a public sidewalk anywhere in the city, but it was the subject of a major lawsuit several years ago. Now, it can only be enforced under limited circumstances, per a 2007 settlement with the ACLU.
Critics predict the proposed policy changes would continue to push homeless people to less desirable areas of L.A., such as the northeast San Fernando Valley, away from most luxury residential developments and gentrification projects. Some homeless advocates call the idea “completely unworkable” and said the new rules would create encampment zones concentrated around the city’s commercial strips.
“Most of the public toilets that people can use are in our parks, and if you tell people they can’t be within 500 feet of a park where do they go during the day to use that toilet?” asked Carol Sobel, a civil rights attorney who has represented homeless people in lawsuits against the city. “It’s a counter-productive proposal.”
If approved, Sobel argued that the new rules would make it almost impossible for unsheltered people to sleep outdoors in the notorious Skid Row neighborhood, where an estimated 4,757 homeless individuals currently reside. The area contains several homeless shelters and other support facilities that have opened in recent years, meaning street dwellers would be prohibited from camping on the surrounding sidewalks.
Opponents of the measure, such as Councilman Mike Bonin whose district includes Venice Beach, predicts the law would be invalidated by the courts. However, the L.A. City Attorney’s office is confident the recommended policy changes would hold up if challenged.
Last year, a federal court tossed out rules enacted in Boise, Idaho, that restricted sleeping on public property. The decision in that case, Martin v. City of Boise, applies to California and several other states in the West.
The court concluded that as long as there is no option to sleep in a shelter or housing, “the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property.”
However, the court also said that “even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible.”
Data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates there are more than 27,000 unsheltered people within the city limits, but only about 8,100 emergency shelter beds. LAist reports that more than half of those beds are reserved for families and children, leaving approximately 4,000 for single adults.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.