Last week, the City Council of Los Angeles took a giant step backward when it approved two archaic ordinances that allow for the involuntary removal of the property of homeless individuals from the streets of Los Angeles. These ordinances, which are expected to be approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti, allow police officers to remove the property of people experiencing homelessness from Los Angeles streets after only 24 hours notice. The previous time allotted for warning was 72 hours. Property will then be impounded by the City. Tents will be subject to removal by the police between the hours of 6am-9pm. Any tents found on the street between the hours of 6am-9pm will be “stored” (or impounded) for 90 days.
People who want to retrieve their personal property must find transportation to the impoundment center (which is a costly and arduous process for people experiencing homelessness). The city is referring to these centers as “storage facilities”, not impoundment centers, because “storage facility” sounds less cruel and less bureaucratic, but in reality the retrieval of property poses further problems for people experiencing homelessness. There will be forms to fill out and people will have difficulties navigating the system for retrieving personal property, as is often the case with impounding property. The city has no “storage” system in place yet to accommodate the new ordinances, which shows that a lack of preparedness will make retrieval of property even more confusing and difficult for people who are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. (City Council members even admitted that this lack of storage preparedness is a problem.)
The only Councilman to vote “no” on these horrible ordinances was Gil Cedillo. Councilman Cedillo was supported by homeless rights advocates and community organizers who were tightly packed into the City Council meeting. “We should have a war on poverty, not on the poor,” Cedillo said at the City Council meeting.
One particularly eloquent homeless advocate was quoted in the Los Angeles Times on June 23, 2015 explaining the injustices of the ordinances from the point of view of people who support the rights of the homeless: “‘I don’t see how the city can acknowledge the involuntariness of the homeless, make breezy poetry about intent to provide solutions in the distant future and then feel entitled and moral to confiscate people’s property in the immediate,’ said Alice Callaghan, a longtime homeless advocate and director of a skid row school for immigrants’ children.”
Louise Mbella, Downtown Women’s Action Committee secretary was quoted in the Los Angeles Times critiquing the ordinances for their constitutional dubiousness and their lack of compassion: “The new ordinances are just cruel…If you negate the right to occupy public space to certain human beings, don’t call it public…You’re asking them to carry three suitcases on their backs.”
How did the City of Los Angeles get to this terrifying place of cruelty and inhumanity towards people experiencing homelessness? Business Improvement District advocates have been imploring the City Council and the Mayor’s office to limit the visibility of the homeless in downtown Los Angeles to improve opportunities for financial gain. Business Improvement District representatives believe that if people experiencing homelessness (and their belongings) are out of sight, then they will be out of mind. This is textbook example of how “money talks” in politics. The folks with “business improvement” goals–or gentrification goals–have overwhelming support from local politicians who will be looking for the electoral support of business minded voters in the next election cycle. People who are experiencing homelessness face far more barriers to voting than business leaders and are therefor, not a valid constituency in the eyes of local political leaders. If they were considered an important voting block, then they would have more than one City Council member representing their interests. In Los Angeles, economic capital translates into political capital, leaving business leaders (and supporters of gentrification) to profit while allowing for the demonization and criminalization of people who are experiencing homelessness.
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This picture depicts people experiencing homelessness and people advocating for the homeless at the Los Angeles City Council meeting where the stringent enforcement of the destruction of encampments was approved.
Picture from: Genaro Molina (http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-homeless-sweeps-20150624-story.html)
Holland, Gale. “L.A. City Council OKs crackdowns on homeless encampments”. The Los Angeles Times. 23 June 2015. http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-homeless-sweeps-20150624-story.html
Holland, Gale. “L.A. vote makes it easier to break up homeless camps”. The Los Angeles Times. 16 June 2015. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-homeless-belongings-20150615-story.html