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City May Soften Rules To Allow Homeless To Store Belongings In Bins [UPDATE]

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The City Council will consider proposed changes to city policy on homeless sweeps today that would allow homeless individuals to store belongings in public areas, with some caveats.A June ordinance authorized aggressive sweeps of homeless encampments, criminalizing encampments that remain out between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and prohibiting any storage of personal property in public areas; the changes being voted on today would would soften some provisions. The new law would allow homeless individuals to keep a 60-gallon recycling bin's worth of storage on the sidewalk or in other public areas if no other storage space is available, according to City News Service. However, if the city provides storage within a two-mile radius, homeless individuals must confine their belongings to what they can carry in a backpack, according to the L.A. Times.

Basically the city would still be allowed to impound any property left unattended or property that doesn't fit in a 60-gallon bin, and individuals who refuse to take down encampments during the day could still be charged with misdemeanors—but individuals would be allowed to keep deconstructed tents, bedding, clothes, food, medicine, documents and other personal items on the sidewalk, as long as items fit in said bins.

According to the Times, Los Angeles has the largest number of unsheltered people in the country. Most Angelenos don't need to venture far from their homes to see that the city has a homelessness crisis—shanty towns and encampments sprawl out beneath bridges and freeway overpasses from Silver Lake to Santa Monica. "It's everywhere now; the encampments are in residential neighborhoods, they're outside of schools," L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin told the L.A. Times last May.

The challenge comes as the city struggles to balance public health concerns with the rights of homeless individuals—along with legal challenges from advocates for the homeless, and charges that the city has effectively criminalized homelessness.

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"We need a balanced approach that sets reasonable rules and limitations on how much, what kind and where property can be stored," Councilman Joe Buscaino said in an emailed statement. "This ordinance strikes that proper balance: it allows the homeless to keep as much personal property as can fit in a standard blue recycling bin, but, it cannot: block ADA pathways, be within 10 feet of an entrance or exit, or pose a hazard to public health." Buscaino warned that today's ordinance will by no means solve homelessness in the city, but that it will provide an interim fix to deal with one of the impacts of homelessness.

The L.A. Times reports that the city has suffered a series of courtroom losses over its enforcement policies, and Bonin warns that the city could end up paying more fees to civil rights attorneys.

Attorneys with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles have warned that even with the proposed amendments the ordinance remains unconstitutional, and that it would continue to criminalize homelessness.

Update 12:57 p.m.: City News Service reports that the Los Angeles City Council has voted to temporarily approve the amendments, allowing individuals to to keep a recycling bin's worth of storage in a public area if no other storage space is available.

Related:
City Seizes Tiny Houses Built For The Homeless