Thursday, September 28

Editorial: LA City Council members cannot continue support for homeless encampment sweeps

Editor’s note: Editorials are intended to serve as the jumping-off point, not the conclusion, to discussion. As part of the Daily Bruin’s commitment to its readers, the board hopes to present a responsible and clear analysis of relevant events and news items affecting the lives of those we serve, but our editorials are not representative of the Daily Bruin’s views on issues as a whole. We encourage all readers to reach out to our board members and to respond to our editorials.

People aren’t pests.

It’s a simple enough concept, but no matter how many times we say it, the Los Angeles City Council doesn’t seem to get it.

In October, council members barred people from sitting, sleeping, lying and storing property at 54 locations in the city, marking one of the first applications of an anti-camping ordinance they passed at the end of July.

The editorial board condemned the ordinance after it was approved, calling it a violation of Angelenos’ right to public space and a sure step toward penalizing economic insecurity. Our position has not changed. The criminalization of poverty is never a solution.

But more than that, it is ineffective at addressing the root of the problem.

Take, for example, the Veterans Row encampment – only about two miles away from campus. A week ago, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department disbanded it, displacing residents and discarding their belongings.

Some veterans were moved into supportive or temporary housing, while others were relocated to an encampment on Veterans Affairs property, according to KTLA 5. But moving to a fenced VA encampment is only a baby step, with some remaining in tents because of the small size of newly delivered mini homes. The goal should be to move all veterans to stable housing with supportive services.

Even though some were given housing, the changes to their lives were made without their consent. Violently, our council members have made the lives of people experiencing homelessness even more unstable.

That’s not exactly a recipe for getting them back on their feet.

And Paul Koretz, the LA City Council member representing UCLA and the surrounding community, is one of the worst offenders.

On Wednesday, the council approved a motion Koretz filed to ban unhoused people from five locations, including Westwood Park.

Our representative is not only complicit but a driving factor in the continued mistreatment of people experiencing homelessness.

And this isn’t even to mention the deplorable evil of taking these actions in this particular moment, when the pandemic has made securing safe housing options so much more precarious.

In fact, in the weeks before Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the ordinance that made resting in many public spaces a crime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that encampment sweeps scatter individuals across a community, interrupting access to service providers and increasing the risk of spreading infectious diseases.

Of course, those that support these actions are unlikely to own up to their wrongdoings. They have set in place measures alongside these evictions that help the people they harm – at least, in theory.

But what meager help the council has tried to enact has often gone without nearly the same degree of follow-through as the criminalizing measures. For example, procedures providing for advance notice of sweeps haven’t been accompanied by assurances to limit interactions between police and people experiencing homelessness.

Clearly, none of these policies are being implemented with the welfare of our city’s most vulnerable in mind.

What will solve the problem is affordable housing, decriminalization and accessible resources for mental health, financial assistance and substance abuse – all measures recommended by the LA County Homeless Initiative.

The LA City Council must do better to recognize the dangers individuals experiencing homelessness face when met with constant sweeping, displacement and dehumanizing statutes.

Fortunately, these actors can be replaced. Several candidates running for Koretz’s seat in the 2022 election have expressed opposition to Garcetti’s ordinance and are looking to address the root of homelessness, rather than literally sweeping it away.

If our current representatives are going to approach the problem of people lacking shelter with the same attitude as a child shoving a mess under their bed, vote them out. Unhoused Angelenos deserve better.

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