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Why Police Are First Responders To The Homelessness Crisis

An LAPD car on Wall Street in Skid Row, Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)
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Talk to any police officer for more than a few minutes about homelessness, and you'll eventually hear the adage, "Well, cops aren't social workers."

It's true. Cops are not social workers, but they represent a sizable portion of the day-to-day response to Los Angeles' homelessness crisis, all on the taxpayer's dime. The result is a disproportionately high number of contacts between police and unhoused residents of Los Angeles.

Police are called out in a myriad of circumstances relating to homelessness. In many cases, it doesn't end well. Approximately one-in-three times that an LAPD officer uses force, it's against an unhoused person.

Now, as calls to "defund the police" make their way into the political mainstream, the long-simmering calls to decriminalize homelessness and create alternative first responders, such as social workers and mental health experts, are becoming a clamor.

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How did it happen that police became first responders to the homelessness crisis?