Homeless in L.A. County
Homeless in L.A. County
Clotee Pridgen Allochuku/Flickr

Arrests of Homeless People for Minor Offenses Increase, But Is That What People Want?

According to reports this week, the number of homeless people arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department has seen a significant increase since 2011.

In a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times , the ratio of homeless people arrested in 2011 was reported at 1 in 10, while that number had risen to 1 in 6 by 2016.

City officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti on NPR in 2015, have publicly denounced criminalizing the city's homeless population. Yet in the summer of 2014, the City Council passed two ordinances shrinking the amount of notice needed by law enforcement before breaking up homeless encampments.

The minor offenses for which homeless people are often arrested and ticketed include sleeping on the sidewalk, living in a car and low-level drug possession. But, of course, those fines might not be easily payable by people living on the street.

"To pay $400 and be serving jail time because you had the audacity to sit on the sidewalk because you're homeless … that's just not justice," attorney Colleen Mullen told the Times.

The base fine for sleeping on the sidewalk is $35, but that can rise quickly when you add $1 for night court, $4 for air ambulance, $7 criminal surcharge, $35 conviction fee, $40 court security, $8 emergency medical, $20 DNA lab, $20 courthouse construction, $2 county penalty fund and $40 state penalty fund, the Times reported.

Back in April 2017, Mayor Garcetti promised to end homelessness once and for all during his "State of the City" speech. But when the annual county homeless count arrived in June, L.A. Weekly reported a “20 percent increase in people living in encampments, tents and vehicles, and a 23 percent increase in the overall number of people on the streets countywide.”

Elsewhere in the county, Alex Fisch, head of Culver City's Committee on Homelessness, said that he was looking into the CCPD's arrest numbers regarding homeless people.

"Criminalizing homelessness harms individuals and communities and can make it more difficult to address homelessness," Fisch told us. "That's why decriminalization has been one of LA County's 47 approved strategies to prevent and combat homelessness from the beginning, and Culver City is a committed partner in implementing the strategies laid out in LA County's Homeless Initiative."

There was optimism regarding Measure HHH, which in November 2016 saw 76 percent of the city's voters in favor of fighting homelessness, raising taxes by 0.1 percent to pay for permanent housing and shelters.

L.A. Weekly quoted L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' statement: "I commend the voters in the city of Los Angeles for recognizing the homeless crisis and stepping up to provide funding for permanent housing to restore dignity to those living in utter squalor. With the passage of HHH, it's now time for the county to step up to provide critical supportive services for the homeless."

Those statistics suggest that Angelenos want to help Los Angeles' homeless community, not see them arrested.

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