Critics Say L.A.’s War on Homelessness Is Now a War on the Homeless

From state of emergency votes to tent encampment bans, the ongoing struggle to get a grip on homelessness grows increasingly divisive

In January, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ushered in the new year by voting unanimously to declare a state of emergency on homelessness, a crisis Mayor Karen Bass has credited with inspiring her to leave Congress and return to L.A. Now, almost a month to the day of her emergency declaration, homeless communities across the city are faced with desperate efforts by local official to gain even the appearance of some control over the crisis.

A central feature of nearly every plan executed so far is to target and eliminate tent encampments. 

In Culver City, this effort manifested in Tuesday morning’s passing of a controversial ordinance banning encampments in public spaces, CBS reports. Though the ordinance, which passed in 3-2 vote, is touted by supporters as an effort to show compassion to the unhoused, critics are calling it yet another effort to criminalize homelessness. 

“The new conservative majority on the Culver City Council is making cruelty it’s hallmark,” Tweeted former L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin. “One of its first acts was cutting wages for healthcare workers, and now it’s… displacing more than 100 unhoused residents.” 

Bonin’s criticism was widely echoed in public comments when the ordinance was first introduced, with opponents pointing to the potentially dangerous consequences banning tents would have on the unhoused local community. As reported by Knock LA, Ndindi Kitonga of Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid raised concerns regarding inconsistent housing offers and services to offset the ban, while previously unhoused Culver City community member Jennifer Stavros called the ordinance a “death sentence.” 

These concerns were challenged by proponents of the measure. Assistant City Manager Jesse Mays called unhoused people unreliable narrators when the ordinance was first introduced, while Culver City realtor Paula Gerez spoke in support of the measure when it was passed, citing her belief that housing options were available and that voting against the proposal was to stand on the sidelines.

“Choosing to do nothing is not okay,” Gerez insisted.

Culver council members Freddy Puza and Yasmine-Imani McMorrin were the two holdouts voting against the measure. Puza called it premature and cruel, and McMorrin said the move was an “Anti-living ordinance,” according to Knock LA. 

Though council members have implied that city staff should not enforce the ordinance until better housing resources are available, Mayor Albert Vera admitted it could be three to six years to create this housing, suggesting officials will pursue the development of a safe camping site in a city-owned parking lot. This strategy has also come under fire as an ineffective solution. 

In L.A. on Monday, city workers attempted to clear a stretch of Skid Row encampments near San Pedro and 5th streets, according to ABC News. The scene was as heated and tense as Culver City’s overnight ordinance debate, with one man claiming that police cut him when confiscating a knife he held in his lap as he witnessed the sweep. 

Though the cleanup was called a routine measure by the L.A. sanitation workers, bystanders argued it was part and parcel of a larger ongoing effort to remove Skid Row homeless.

Homeless activist Stephanie Arnold Williams was among the crowd of angry onlookers, saying, “So I built my house right here on wheels. I was going to start building it for the homeless. They don’t want tiny houses here.”

These dramatic scenes may very well have be on the minds of Santa Monica’s City Council as it votes on Tuesday regarding whether or not to declare a state of emergency similar to those in Culver City and Los Angeles. “The number one issue of our time is homelessness,” said David White in an official Santa Monica press release. “For many years, Santa Monica has treated homelessness as an emergency… We must do more and we are at a critical moment with great promise to see positive change across every level of government.”

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