Committee Advances Outreach Strategy To Accompany L.A. Anti-Camping Law


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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council Homelessness and Poverty Committee today advanced a motion to approve recommendations for a Street Engagement Strategy to accompany a sweeping ordinance to restrict sleeping and homeless encampments in certain areas of the city.

The motion will next be reviewed by the Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee, but Councilman and Homelessness and Poverty Committee Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas said the goal is to have the full City Council approve the motion before the ordinance goes into effect on Sept. 3. The ordinance was approved by the City Council, with two council members dissenting on July 28, and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti the next day.

Assistant City Administrative Officer Yolanda Chavez told committee members that the office recommends a concentrated engagement process be implemented before enforcing the ordinance for encampments in areas that require a resolution and posted signage, which includes within 500 feet of schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries.

To start, the Street Engagement Strategy recommendations would serve as a pilot program at one site in each district until the CAO reports on the success of the pilot in February, and further action is taken to add engagement resources. If the City Council approves the pilot, enforcement of the ordinance -- in locations requested by resolution from council members -- would not occur outside of the location of the outreach pilot program in each district, Chavez told Councilwoman Nithya Raman during the committee meeting.

“The objective of the strategy is to ensure a standardized assessment of encampments and adequate dedicated street engagement at sites where unsheltered people reside and ... an accountable process by which nonprofit street engagement teams work collaboratively with the city and county – all those departments -- to help unsheltered individuals transition indoors to more appropriate and dignified interim and permanent housing options with the appropriate services attached,'' Ridley-Thomas said Thursday.

The Homelessness and Poverty Committee voted 3-1 to approve the motion, with only Councilman Joe Buscaino dissenting. Buscaino requested the motion be held until the chief legislative analyst finishes its own report on a potential Street Engagement Strategy, but the other council members voted to advance the motion in an effort to have it approved by Sept. 3.

Chavez recommended the city allow ample time, up to four months, for comprehensive engagement with residents in encampments before enforcement. She added that “two weeks is not enough time to build relationships and to really assess needs and to bring in the additional services that are needed.''

Along with allowing enough time, the CAO's core recommendations include:

-- understanding a specific encampment's residents and their needs, such as the number of men, women, children, people with disabilities, pets and more;

-- documenting outreach consistently;

-- identifying resources that can be offered, including housing, trash disposal, hygiene trailers and COVID-19 vaccinations;

-- understanding the encampment's informal leadership;

-- conducting enforcement with transparency and adequate notice;

-- identifying members of the encampment who want to stay together in shared housing; and

-- identifying housing options before engaging with the encampment.

Chavez also said the approval of resolutions to enforce the ordinance in certain areas should be pending the completion of “street to home'' engagement. Buscaino, who has already proposed legislation to restrict camping in 11 areas of his district, asked Chavez what the “best-case scenario'' would be for the timeline between a council member introducing a resolution to restrict camping in a designated area and being able to enforce the ordinance. Chavez estimated about 30 days but said it would depend on the encampment and could take up to four months.

She said the city will also document all offers of housing and shelter to encampment residents to protect the city from liability.

Ridley-Thomas, one of the leaders of the ordinance, said the Street Engagement Strategy “would ensure standardized assessment of encampments, an adequate period of dedicated street engagement at sites where unsheltered people reside and a transparent and accountable process by which street engagement teams work collaboratively to help unsheltered individuals transition indoors to more appropriate and dignified housing options with services attached.''

The ordinance modified the city's current anti-camping law in Municipal Code 41.18, to prohibit sitting, sleeping, lying, storing personal property or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in several areas of the city, including within two feet of any fire hydrant or fire plug; within five feet of any operational or utilizable entrance or exit; within 10 feet of a loading dock or driveway; in a manner that interferes with any activity for which the city has issued a permit or restricts accessible passage as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act; or anywhere within a street, including bike paths.

It will also protect the public right of way within 500 feet of a “sensitive'' facility (including schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries) once the council passes a resolution to designate a specific area for enforcement, posts signage and gives notice of the date that the ordinance will be enforced for the area.

Areas include:

-- up to 500 feet of a designated overpass, underpass, freeway ramp, tunnel, bridge, pedestrian bridge, subway, wash or spreading ground, railroad track or where lodging unsheltered or in tents is unhealthy, unsafe and incompatible with safe passage; and

-- up to 1,000 feet of a facility opened after Jan. 1, 2018 that provides shelter, safe sleeping, safe parking or navigation centers for persons experiencing homelessness.

The ordinance will also allow the city to prevent encampments for a period of no longer than one year in areas that are deemed an ongoing threat to public health or safety, including due to:

-- death or serious bodily injury of any person at the location due to a hazardous condition;

-- repeated serious or violent crimes or threats of serious or violent crimes, including human trafficking; and

-- fires at the location.

People who violate the ordinance will face an infraction or citation, but “a person who willfully resists, delays or obstructs a city employee from enforcing this section or who willfully refuses to comply after being requested to do so by an authorized city employee'' can face higher fines and a misdemeanor charge, according to the ordinance.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who does not serve on the committee, was invited to participate in the conversation and give advice based on his recent “Encampment to Home'' program that brought 211 people in Venice indoors with a pathway to permanent housing. Bonin said it was a myth that people are hesitant to accept housing, but people hold out for “real housing'' and don't want to be placed in temporary shelter. He also said it was important to understand people have a variety of needs and desires, and people should be given a range of options, flexibility and patience.

“The other thing I think was really very important was to come into this with no judgment and to respect the dignity and the agency of every person who was living on the streets and to give them the ability to direct what it is they want and they need,'' Bonin said.

He also said he hopes the resources available through the Street Engagement Strategy offered through this program is not limited to areas being enforced by the ordinance but that the resources be made available to each council member to implement in their districts without enforcement.

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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