L.A. City Council Bans Homeless Encampments Near Schools, Daycare

In an 11-3 vote, Section 41.18 was amended, criminalizing the encampments, with Bonin, Raman and Harris-Dawson voicing ardent opposition

The crowd burst out soon after Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino rose on Tuesday to make his case for approving the highly contentious amendment to section 41.18 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code that would criminalize homeless encampments near schools and day care centers.

Within seconds, protestors that had filled the chamber to voice their concerns began to boo. Holding signs that read “Abolish 41.18” and, more morbidly, “If I die unhoused – forget burial – just drop my body on the steps of L.A. City Hall,” their chants grew louder as Buscaino continued trying to speak. “Shut him down, Shut him down” they chanted until the mics were cut and a recess was called to remove them.

When the session resumed and the crowd was gone, Buscaino defended his position. “I supported bridge home shelters, tiny homes, project room key, but what I don’t support are drug dens near our schools, parks, or anywhere children congregate.”

With the support of other members, Buscaino made his case that approving 41.18 was the only choice, homing in on the argument of “safe passage” for students and teachers, to prevent them from being “exposed to indecent exposure, fires, needles, theft, episodes of psychotic behavior and sex crimes,” he explained. “A ‘No’ vote will allow the continuance of this activity near and around our most treasured sites.”

The amendment makes “it unlawful for a person to sit, lie, or sleep, or to store, use, maintain, or place personal property near schools and daycare centers”.

Also voting in favor of the amendment was Councilwoman and President Nury Martinez. After denouncing the protest, she recalled members of the public that had spoken at previous sessions and proceeded to explain her support for the amendment.

“Members, I know this is tough for some of you, not that tough for me because in my district I am building and I am housing people,” she said. “The least I can do for my community, which I grew up in and still live there, is to be able to clear the public right of way to send their kids to school every day and feel safe.”

But opponents of the amendment believe it does little to nothing to solve the root cause of the issue—that simply pushing encampments down the block will do little to help those that find themselves living in said encampments. They believe the council should be focusing its attention on housing and providing services that aim to alleviate homelessness.”

“This is not a question of whether or not you approve of having encampments near schools and daycare centers,” Councilman Mike Bonin said. “Nobody wants encampments. This is a question whether or not we’re going to put our energy and our focus into a strategy that manages where encampments are by moving them from block to block or whether we’re going to put our time, our energy, our funds, our attention into ending homeless encampments by ending homelessness and moving people indoors.”

Bonin was joined in opposition by Councilwoman Nithya Raman and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Local groups have also spoken out against the approval of the amendment. In an interview with LAMag, Tyler Renner, Director of Media at People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) agreed that kids need to be protected but by criminalizing encampments perpetuates a dangerous perception.

“We want all kids to be safe. We want everyone to be safe in L.A., that’s a given.” Renner says. “I feel like this plays to the worst part of who we are, the fears and the stigmas around people experiencing homelessness, that they’re all dangerous, they’re all substance using and having mental health episodes. That’s not necessarily the case.”

By criminalizing the encampments, Renner says it only makes life more difficult for those facing homelessness. “What is the point of ticketing someone who’s experiencing homelessness, to give them fines, to have them appear in court, to have them have a criminal record? That just makes every step of the process even harder.”

In response to Tuesday’s vote, PATH said in a statement:

Broadening the scope and scale of enforcement only wastes valuable time and resources that would be better spent on outreach and housing. Service providers, elected officials, and Angelenos of every housing status agree the status quo is unacceptable. That’s why, since the start of the pandemic, Los Angeles has conducted multiple intensive ‘encampment-to-home’ efforts, demonstrating many times over that we can safely and sustainably resolve encampments when we invest in proper outreach and access to permanent housing… We remind the Council that our unhoused neighbors are far more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be perpetrators.”

PATH’s statement concludes, “We urge the Council to pursue outreach and affordable housing development strategies we know to be successful, and avoid rushed enforcement actions wasting valuable time and resources. As we have for decades, we pledge our firm partnership in the City’s efforts to end homelessness through outreach, housing, and supportive services.”

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