City Hall

Garcetti reaches two years, vows to block crackdown on homeless

Thumbnail image for homeless-pico-closer.jpgSidewalk encampment on Pico Boulevard in West LA. earlier this year.

Mayor Eric Garcetti changed his tune on Tuesday and now says he will let the City Council's get-tough policy against homeless encampments become law, without his signature, but will order city departments not to carry out sweeps or aggressive enforcement before more safeguards are added. This came out during a lengthy interview about the first two years of his term with Warren Olney of "Which Way, LA?" on KCRW. Garcetti said he wants the City Council to amend its crackdown measures to make sure that vital personal documents, medicines and other important belongings will not be lost if homeless encampments are dispersed. He also said that the homeless should not (*fixed) be criminalized as part of an effort to clean up sidewalks. The whole interview is on audio.

Looks like during the evening the mayor's comments became a full-on thing. The LA Times posted a story about 10 p.m. saying "Garcetti backed off controversial legislation targeting homeless encampments, saying late Tuesday he would not stop the measures from becoming law but would block enforcement until the City Council softens some provisions."

Garcetti had originally said he supported the laws, passed by the council last week, which would make it easier to seize and destroy homeless people's belongings on sidewalks and in parks.

“I strongly support the enactment of laws that enable the city to ensure that public areas are clean and safe,” he said in a statement released by a spokesman. But Garcetti said he decided the ordinances do “not adequately achieve the proper balance” between keeping the streets clean and protecting the rights of people “who have no other choice but to live on them.”

The ordinances — one for sidewalks, the other for parks — give homeless people 24 hours to move their possessions or face having them seized. The city could destroy “bulky” or hazardous items and store the rest for 90 days. The only city storage facility is on skid row. Violators could be ticketed or charged with a misdemeanor.

The political heat was turned up on Tuesday through an LA Times op-ed by Gary Blasi, a retired UCLA professor who has been active in efforts to improve conditions on LA's unbelievable Skid Row — a large swath of downtown where thousands camp on sidewalks or bed down in shelters or dicey single-room occupancy hotels. Blasi, who all the players on the homeless issue know, said the City Council's new laws will make being homeless on the streets of Los Angeles a crime and that the amendments Garcetti discussed won''t change anything.

From Blasi's op-ed with Phillip Mangano, president and chief executive of the American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness:

In Los Angeles, there are enough shelter beds for less than one-third of homeless people, the lowest percentage of any large city in the country. That leaves nearly 18,000 people — an increase of 18% in the last two years — to fend for themselves on the streets. Every human being must at some point lay his burdens down. But in Los Angeles, this is soon to be a crime.

The City Council has passed and Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to sign into law by July 6 two ordinances that would allow the Los Angeles Police Department to impound any and all possessions the homeless have that they cannot wear or carry on their backs. Violators face the loss of nearly everything they own, criminal prosecution, jail and fines they cannot pay with money they do not have.

These ordinances command seizure of not only tents, tarps, bedding and sleeping bags but also "clothing, documents and medication." The inclusion of these items demonstrates extraordinary callousness and hostility toward the poor and disabled.

"Documents" would include the military discharge papers of some of the 4,000 homeless veterans on our streets, as well as identification papers of every description. "Medication" includes drugs that, if stopped abruptly, could cause grave medical harm. Although there has been talk of amendments to eliminate these items from the list of what police can take and to drop the criminal penalty for violations, Council President Herb Wesson indicated that the ordinances could go into effect before that happens.

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