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LA poised to scale back proposed restrictions on where homeless can sleep

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Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who proposed the rules, says he’s ready to “revisit” them

A slender man in a partially unbuttoned pink shirt, blue jeans, and a red baseball cap stands with a black rolling suitcase in front of tents, tarps, and shopping carts. Buildings, palm trees, hills, and the Hollywood Sign in the background.
A new plan under consideration in the city would bar restrict where people experiencing homelessness can sleep in public areas.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Angelenos have every right to be angry about the homeless encampments that have proliferated across the city, sprouting up along the river, in parks, below freeway underpasses, and on sidewalks near schools, says Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin.

If you weren’t frustrated, he said today, “you’d be dead inside.”

But it’s “ass backwards” to have a conversation about limiting where people can sleep without providing more places for them to live, said Bonin, opening up an anticipated and raucous debate among the full City Council about a proposal to severely restrict where homeless residents are allowed to use public spaces.

With the council’s input, the rules now head back to the homeless and poverty committee, where they were unveiled in August, and will likely be scaled back.

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who, as the committee’s chair, asked the city attorney to draft the rules, said today that he’s ready to “revisit” them. As drafted, they would outlaw sitting, sleeping, and lying near parks, bridges, schools and routes to schools, existing shelters, on bike and recreational paths, and in “crowded sidewalk areas” and major venues.

He also wants to do away with a clause that would ban conduct “annoying” to pedestrians.

The majority of councilmembers seemed to agree that there need to be some restrictions—but the ones, as proposed, go too far. The solution Bonin and others said, is to figure out how and where to house more people more quickly, not limit where they can sleep.

“I know this legislation was well intended, to protect children and others,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz.

But, he said, it “sends the wrong message that homeless people are always a danger.” It’s no wonder then, Koretz said, that residents object to temporary shelters and affordable housing developments in their neighborhoods.

O’Farrell and the city attorney’s office are trying to bring the city into compliance with Martin v. Boise, a Ninth Circuit Court decision that found local governments can’t punish people for sleeping outside, unless they’ve provided enough available shelter beds.

The proposed rules would replace the city of LA’s blanket ban on sitting, lying, and sleeping on “any street, sidewalk or other public way.”

That ordinance, No. 41.18, has been in effect since 1968, but the city stopped enforcing it at night it in 2007, after it was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six homeless people in a case called Jones v. the City of Los Angeles.

At the very least, senior assistant city attorney Valerie Flores said, the city’s ordinance should match its enforcement practices.

“The city can still enforce regulations on when and where people can dwell in public right of way, even if they can’t ban it entirely,” O’Farrell said.

Homeless advocates and activists are pushing for a repeal of 41.18, and they turned out by the dozens at today’s hearing, at one point growing loud enough to prompt the council to pause its discussion and go into recess.

“Our homeless neighbors need a hand up, not handcuffs,” Ktown for All member Mike Dickerson told the council.

Councilmembers expressed worries about addressing constituent concerns while allowing sidewalk sleeping. Councilmember Bob Blumenfield explained how he needed to help high school students blocked by tents under the 101 Freeway that forced them to walk into busy Winnetka Avenue, but he didn’t want to criminalize homelessness.

The crowd yelled back: “Yes, you do!”