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Housing and Homelessness

LA City Council Approves An Ordinance That Bans Unhoused People From Camping On Sidewalks And Near Schools And Public Property

A woman stands in front of a large tent encampment covered by tarps, sheets, and blankets on a sidewalk.
A proposed ordinance would prevent unhoused people from camping in some parts of L.A.
(Chava Sanchez
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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging ordinance that would ban unhoused people from camping in designated parts of the city.

Camping would be prevented anywhere that impedes passage for anyone protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes sidewalks. Camping will also be banned within 500 feet of schools, day care facilities, public parks, libraries, underpasses, overpasses, freeway ramps and subway stations, and within 1,000 feet of a homeless shelter.

The ordinance also allows the city to ban encampments from any location that poses a threat to public safety because of activity such as repeated violent crimes. Thirteen council members voted in support of the ordinance, with council members Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin voting no.

Putting the ordinance into effect will involve a new framework for engaging with people experiencing homelessness. At the council meeting, the city administrative office submitted a report that is said to contain best practices from city and county outreach workers, along with input from council members.

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"The promise of this framework is that it's housing focused," said Yolanda Chavez, assistant city administrative officer. "We need to assess people’s needs and connect them to services and housing. If we don't have housing resources available we can’t clear encampments."

If Mayor Eric Garcetti signs the ordinance, there will be a 30-day period before it goes into effect. Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the ordinance and represents parts of South and Central L.A., said the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee will discuss the report from the city administrative office in more detail on Aug. 12.

"Street engagement is an important component in addressing homelessness in the city of Los Angeles," Ridley-Thomas said. "If we want to see a sustainable way, we must have a much more robust, imaginative and extensive level of activities in the streets that transitions people from the street to appropriate housing options. This is a significant step in that direction."

'Move In, Move Along, Or Face A Consequence'

South Bay councilmember and mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino was more blunt in his assessment, claiming if people experiencing homelessness are offered shelter, they have to "move in, move along, or face a consequence."

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Paul Koretz, who represents the largely West Side District 5, said even though he didn’t think the ordinance was perfect, he would vote yes, adding that he will monitor its implementation closely.

Angelenos who called in to the council meeting during public comment to speak out against the ordinance accused the council of trying to "sweep homeless people under a rug," and blamed the overdevelopment of luxury housing along with a lack of affordable housing.

Supporters of the ordinance, which include the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses are struggling under immense pressure from the pandemic and this would provide economic relief, give sidewalk access to people with disabilities, and relieve concerns of encampments near schools.

Connie Gonzales, a resident of Arleta in the San Fernando Valley, said during public comment that she wanted to see an amendment that adds more accountability beyond a citation to punish people "who use public streets as a restroom or home" and don’t want help.

"If they refuse to take shelter, there should be penalties," she said.

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But the lack of shelter is why Bonin, who represents a Westside district that includes Venice, voted no. He cited data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that says there are currently beds for only 39% of the unsheltered.

"What about the other 61%?" Bonin said. "Where can they go? Where can they sleep?"

Councilmember Kevin de León, whose district is at the center of a lawsuit brought by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights to house people on Skid Row, said it is a mistake to move to enforcement without providing shelter for unhoused Angelenos. He compared it to "rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic."

"There simply aren't enough housing units or beds for people to go," he said. "This is our reality."

Nevertheless, de León voted yes for the ordinance.

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Updated July 28, 2021 at 3:01 PM PDT
This story was originally published at 6 a.m. and was updated following the City Council's vote.