Mar 18, 2016 by



Gilbert Mercier / Creative Commons

“On a single night in January 2015, California accounted for 26 percent of the nation’s homeless individuals,” according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. On that same night, 9 percent of all homeless individuals were in a single city: Los Angeles, with 33,669. The city also topped the list for the largest number of homeless youths.

Despite these findings (as well as reports of the same types of data spanning several years), Los Angeles spent much of last year passing legislation that actively harmed the homeless. On Monday, this history of discrimination came to a boil in the form of a federal lawsuit filed against the city on behalf of its homeless.

Government has been slow to implement any positive policy measures, despite years of chronic homelessness throughout the city and county. In September, homelessness was abruptly declared a public emergency, and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed spending $100 million to help combat the problem. In February, city and county officials approved the plan.

This may seem surprising, because last June the L.A. City Council approved ordinances to make it easier to tear down homeless encampments. Just two months later, the Department of Justice criticized any efforts to break up such sites—perhaps prompting Garcetti to tackle the issue in a new way. It was not the first time Garcetti has attempted to take on the city’s chronic homelessness, but, as The New York Times reported, since Garcetti took office the homeless population has grown 12 percent.

And yet, despite the City Council’s apparent change of heart, police across L.A. have continued to raze encampments. Now it appears that the city may finally have to face up to its past choices. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported:

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday accused the city of Los Angeles of endangering homeless people by seizing and destroying their tents and bedding and then releasing them from jail into the cold without protection.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accused the city of wrongfully arresting homeless people and seizing their lawful shopping carts as part of a “criminalization” campaign. … “Over the past 25 years, the city’s primary response has been to invest in approaches that address the visible presence of homeless people without actually reducing the number of residents on streets each night,” the lawsuit charged.

“The city’s actions prove the definition of insanity—repeating the same constitutional violations and thinking, somehow, it will come out differently each time,” said Carol Sobel, the plaintiff’s lawyer who has successfully sued the city several times over its homeless policies. The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and several private law firms also represent the plaintiffs.

However, just a day later the L.A. Times reported that “work crews and police were out again Tuesday making arrests and removing homeless encampments along a highly visible stretch of the 101 Freeway downtown. … Officers arrested seven to nine homeless people on outstanding warrants or for possession of allegedly stolen shopping carts and other misdemeanors, authorities said.”

Some of the recent official actions have shown that when it comes to dealing with chronic homelessness, the default approach is to be combative. Last year, there were several police shootings of black men who were homeless—one incident, in Skid Row last March, was highly publicized. Although the L.A. City Council is slowly introducing legislation that could make a difference, it may not be enough in the face of an impending federal court trial.

—Posted by Emma Niles


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