LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A proposal to restrict locations where homeless people can sleep appeared to be dead on arrival at a raucous Los Angeles City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 24, that was disrupted by jeering audience members who shouted “Shame on you” at the council for even considering the idea.
The proposal was introduced earlier this month by City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. It would prohibit homeless people from blocking sidewalks and emergency entrances and would keep them at least 500 feet from schools and other sensitive areas.
It would also set enforcement provisions for people who harass or threaten pedestrians, although some council members suggested the language in the law is broad enough that it would give law enforcement leniency in how it issues citations or makes arrests.
The council took no formal action on the proposal, although members said the measure had at least prompted a needed discussion. The proposal will be heard again by the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee.
“All of us in this room, we live in the real Los Angeles where we clearly don’t have adequate housing units … for the number of homeless individuals that we see every day on city streets,” O’Farrell said. “We must take an honest look at this catastrophe. We have sensitive areas to consider.”
O’Farrell said he would be willing to discuss eliminating the behavioral provisions of the proposal and modify certain restrictions.
The city has had a law regulating sleeping on streets and sidewalks since 1968, but much of it was invalidated by a federal appeals court ruling last year in a case known as Martin v. Boise. That ruling essentially barred cities and counties from citing people for sleeping on sidewalks unless there is adequate alternative shelter space available for the homeless.
City Councilmember Mike Bonin, a vocal opponent of the proposed restrictions, said the city needs to focus on providing more space for people to live before it moves forward with legislating where they can sleep.
“We are having a conversation not about faster or more urgent and less expensive ways for people to sleep but about legislation to tell people where they cannot sleep,” Bonin said. “Colleagues, for me, simply put, that’s ass-backwards.”
Regarding the measure’s regulations regarding harassment of pedestrians, Bonin said that they could have a “racially disparate effect,” referencing social media videos of white people filming black people out of irrational fear.
He said a better discussion for the council to be having would be about funding shared housing facilities and quickly finding apartment space for people with housing vouchers.
Council President Herb Wesson called the discussion a “very phenomenal” conversation on difficult issues.
The council had to briefly recess its meeting due to chanting opponents in the audience.
Louis Abramson, the chair of the central Hollywood Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee, read from a community statement.
“The needs of our unhoused stakeholders weigh heavily on us in advising this council. Of course, the needs of our housed residents, who are the majority of our stakeholders, also weigh heavily on us,” Abramson said.
“In an emotional landscape where our intuitions and ideologies legitimately pull us in different directions, it is CHNC’s stance … that our decisions should rest on the facts.”
Abramson said the CHNC did an analysis of Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s data, and it showed that the proposal would cause 12,000 of the city’s homeless to be displaced. He said such a move would increase the density of homeless people in places where they are allowed to sleep.
Pete White, the director and founder of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said this proposal demonstrates a failure in trying to bridge an economic gap while punishing homeless people.
Meanwhile, O’Farrell said because the city’s parks are the most commonly inhabited by homeless people, he introduced a motion Tuesday instructing the Department of Recreation and Parks to hold board meetings in each of the 15 Council Districts to address each area’s homeless population.