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Housing and Homelessness

Slashed Tents. Vigilantes. How The Homelessness Crisis Is Making Streets Unsafe for Unhoused People

A makeshift tent covered in black tarp sits between two trees on a sidewalk against a fenced in parking lot.
Jami Taylor's former tent in Beverly Grove. She says teenage boys from the neighborhood once threw all her belongings in a dumpster.
(Ethan Ward
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There were nearly 700 incidents in which an unhoused person was the victim of a crime during the first three months of this year, a 7% increase compared with the same time last year, according to an analysis of Los Angeles Police Department data by Crosstown LA.

In many instances, attacks aren’t reported. That was the case with Jami Taylor, a recently unhoused woman who was fleeing domestic violence. Taylor is using an alias to protect her identity.

“They've been slashing tents,” said Taylor, "trying to basically bully the homeless people because people really pick on homeless people out here. It’s nuts!”

The only incidents reported to the LAPD are those in which the suspect was not a person experiencing homelessness. The total number of reported crimes for which people experiencing homelessness were victims was much higher, according to Crosstown LA.

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Assault with a deadly weapon, battery and robbery were the top incidents reported by unhoused victims to the police. There were also 35 thefts reported in the first three months of this year. The incidents highlight how tensions between housed and unhoused residents often play out in neighborhoods.

Taylor said a man from the neighborhood once came and shook her tent violently. She called it “a scary experience when you’re inside it.” One day, she came back to find her tent, along with her belongings that included a birth certificate, Social Security card and iPad, were all gone. She said a group of girls who lived in a nearby apartment complex told her some teenagers in the neighborhood threw her things in a nearby dumpster. Taylor believes they acted on behalf of the man who shook her tent.

“I would have never understood the depths of how we are treating each other in society,” said Taylor after finding herself unhoused in the neighborhood she had lived in for 12 years. “It's just so messed up. I feel like they were trying to break me.”

Some housed people have taken it upon themselves to vilify the people devastated by homelessness, and turn to vigilantism, which only further destroys the hopes and dreams of people on our streets.
— Andy Bales, president and CEO of the Union Rescue Mission

Andy Bales, president and CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, said it’s only getting worse as more people find themselves on the streets.

“Some housed people have taken it upon themselves to vilify the people devastated by homelessness, and turn to vigilantism, which only further destroys the hopes and dreams of people on our streets,” Bales said.

He added that unhoused people need immediate shelter and affordable housing options quickly.

“Homelessness devastates people physically, mentally, emotionally, vocationally, educationally — and it traumatizes them for life,” Bales said.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, for every 205 people pulled out of homelessness in 2021, another 225 people fell into homelessness.

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A bar graph showing the trends in victims of crime who are experiencing homelessness from Jan. 2017 through March 2022.
The bar chart shows the trend in reported crime to the Los Angeles Police Department where the victim of a crime was someone experiencing homelessness. There are seasonal variations with spikes in victims occurring every July. In July 2019, there were 358 reported victims who were experiencing homelessness. None of the suspects in these reported crimes were experiencing homelessness.
(Courtesy of Crosstown LA)

Taylor said she understands some of the tension between housed and unhoused residents, but she urged people to show more compassion.

“There has to be a compromise from each side,” Taylor said. “There has to be a way for people to see why people are the way they are.”

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors recently passed a motion that would establish a new homelessness department meant to create accountability and help speed up efforts to house those living in shelters, on the streets and in vehicles. But getting some unhoused people to come indoors may be difficult. A recent study found that less than a third of unhoused people want to live in congregate shelter facilities.