L.A. Plans to Knock Down Homeless Encampments With Greater Speed

L.A. Plans to Knock Down Homeless Encampments With Greater Speed
Neil Fitzpatrick/L.A. Weekly Flickr pool

Being homeless just got a little more homeless.

The Los Angeles City Council, responding to an explosion in homeless encampments in our fair burg, today voted unanimously to dismantle and clean up the makeshift digs with greater speed.

After a court ruling hamstrung the city's previous policy of eradicating sidewalk sleeping wherever it was found, officials adopted a 72-hour warning policy for the demolition of encampments. Under today's vote, that warning is now down to 24 hours before someone's home will be destroyed.

In fact, "bulky" items can be cleared with no warning under a pair of ordinances, approved today, that target sidewalk and park camping.

City leaders are responding to a whopping 85 percent increase in homeless encampments and automobile living in the last two years. Encampments have cropped up throughout the city, with Venice and Skid Row acting as east and west poles for the downtrodden.

During that time there's been a 12 percent increase in homeless; 85 percent of those without permanent shelter live outside Skid Row, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Those who are warned are free to pack up and move. Or they can store their stuff somewhere else besides a public right-of-way. But where? 

Advocates for these poorest of the poor say today's vote allows city leaders to deal with the imagery of homelessness while skirting the key solution — actually creating affordable housing. 

"This gives police expanded authority to deal with the visibility of homelessness," said longtime advocate Alice Callaghan of Las Familias del Pueblo, a social service nonprofit on Skid Row. "Politicians have to look as if they're doing something."

Last year a federal court ruled that the city can't ban people from sleeping in cars. Nearly 10 years ago a federal panel said Los Angeles can't outlaw sleeping on sidewalks. A 2012 ruling limited seizure of property found in public.

City officials have complained that the rulings have tied their hands when it comes to homeless blight. The effect has been a pileup of homeless' people's effects.

L.A. Plans to Knock Down Homeless Encampments With Greater Speed
Chris Yarzab/L.A. Weekly Flickr pool

In 2012 Los Angeles County health officials actually cited the city for trashy conditions on Skid Row.

Advocate Callaghan thinks the city allowed the problem to fester in order to argue for greater authority when it comes to rousting homeless people and moving their belongings. "They created blight and then sent police to aggressively eliminate it," she said.

Some residents, however, have long been raging about what they see as Third World conditions in a town where million-dollar homes, from downtown to the Westside, are quite the norm.

Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association and a longtime critic of homeless blight, said recently, "Now the question for Venice residents is whether this [the 24-hour sidewalk cleanup] and the new parks ordinance banning the storage of personal items in city parks are enforced."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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