For many Angelenos, a $73 parking ticket is a real bummer — a reason to stay in for the weekend. For homeless people, particularly those who live in their cars, it can be the last straw that puts their vehicles in an impound yard and their bodies out in the cold.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin found a way to bring some hope to homeless people who have been buried by parking tickets. He proposed that the city approve a plan, already being formulated by the city attorney and the L.A. Department of Transportation, that would let homeless folks "with open and unpaid parking citations ... perform community service in lieu of paying the outstanding parking fine amounts," according to a city report on his motion. The council approved it yesterday.
Transportation officials believe the city could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines under the program, which they believe will be popular with people who live in vehicles. (Of course, it's reasonable to assert that many of the tickets that go to homeless people will never be paid anyway.) They also acknowledge there's no data on the number of homeless parking citations. The city has estimated that last year more than 3,900 people lived in cars in L.A.
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Yesterday's unanimous council vote means that the department can establish the Community Assistance Parking Program, which will allow homeless folks with as many as 10 citations in a single year (worth up to $1,500) to work off the fines by doing community service.
"Letting homeless people pay parking tickets with community service or by enrolling in available service programs helps break a sad cycle of homelessness and poverty, and helps get people off the street," Bonin says via email. "This pilot program is a smart, targeted and compassionate approach toward getting homeless people the help they need."
San Diego and San Francisco have similar programs. L.A. parking officials will determine whether applicants are eligible for the program using the definition of homelessness outlined by the federal government. Administrators of the program are tasked with connecting ticket recipients with programs where they can put in work.
The program could be up and running in two weeks or so, according to Bonin's office.