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LA extends rules against sleeping in vehicles

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The temporary policy was originally slated to expire in July

RV parked on commercial street
Sleeping in vehicles is allowed on most non-residential streets.
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The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to extend a temporary set of rules Tuesday that prohibit people from sleeping overnight in cars, RVs, and other vehicles.

The policy directly affects the nearly 9,000 homeless residents who live in cars, trucks, and camper vans across the city of Los Angeles. Its prohibitions primarily apply to residential areas and parking spots near schools and parks, leaving streets in industrial and commercial areas clear for use by people living in vehicles—at least in theory.

Since the ban went into effect last year, the City Council has added hundreds of streets to the list of places where spending the night in a vehicle is prohibited.

The regulations replaced an old law that prohibited people from using vehicles as dwellings in all parts of the city. In 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that law as “unconstitutionally vague.”

When the city’s new rules were approved by the council in 2016, homeless advocates argued that citing residents for sleeping in vehicles amounted to criminalizing poverty and could make it more difficult for these people to find stable housing.

“When an individual is put into the criminal justice system, fees and fines against that person compound dramatically,” said Shayla Myers, an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation. Those fees, Myers told the council, could work to “keep our clients in the cycle of homelessness.”

Councilmember Mike Bonin pushed back against these arguments, pointing out that barring people from sleeping only in specific areas was far less restrictive than the city’s previous policy.

“A yes vote on this for the first time says there are places where you cannot be and places where you can be” said Bonin. “And that is exactly what people have been clamoring for for a decade.”

The rules approved in 2016 were slated to expire in July 2018. But the council pushed that deadline back another six months in June, and is set to do the same Tuesday.

When the policy was extended over the summer, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson noted in a motion that city officials would use the next six months to “reassess the policy” and to encourage communities to create designated safe parking zones where residents living in vehicles can park for the night in secured lots with access to supportive services.

Since then, several councilmembers have proposed safe parking sites in their districts, but the full council isn’t ready to make changes to the policy just yet.

According to a new motion from Harris-Dawson, “additional time is necessary to fully review this matter.”

In October, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield suggested a “vehicle lodging pass program,” under which homeless residents “actively seeking shelter” could get temporary permits to park on specific city streets. The proposal has not yet been heard by the council’s homelessness and poverty committee.