by Alex Storm @alexstormtmt
In June 2015, the L.A. City Council approved a new law regarding homeless encampments in the city. The law allows police officers to confiscate homeless people’s property with 24 hours notice, even if the people are present and claiming it. Bulky items, like sofas and mattresses or sleeping materials can be confiscated and destroyed with no warning. Right now, the city of Los Angeles spends about $100 million per year on homelessness, more than half of which goes towards the police budget to deal with the estimated 26,000 people living on the streets. This law further criminalizes the homeless, takes away their possessions, and does nothing to combat the actual problem of people being reduced to the point of having to sleep on the street. The new law will also require the city to devote even more money to police enforcement, as well as renting storage facilities for the confiscated items.
Perhaps a better approach would be to take a low estimate of the new price of combating homelessness according to some sources, $150 million, and put it towards actually housing homeless people. A cheap studio apartment rents in downtown LA for about $700 per month. Imagine if the city bought a building of studio apartments, created a dorm room setup that housed two people per room, and provided them as temporary housing for the 26,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles. The actual rent cost would be just over $100 million. The other estimated $50 million that would go toward police enforcement of laws against homelessness could instead be used to provide mental health support and job services for the population that the city would be housing.
This would eliminate the concern of the business owners who don’t like having the unsightly homeless encampments on their block, and it would provide some stability to a hugely disadvantaged population. Suddenly, people who have the desire to work and support themselves will have a much better chance of doing so. Other people, who are chronically homeless and unable to work, would have the opportunity to receive the mental health services and addiction recovery they need, while living in a safer environment. Lastly, providing housing would significantly lessen the impact of homelessness on children and decrease the chances of them becoming homeless adults. Children who have a consistent safe place to sleep will be able to attend school more regularly and their parents will be in a better position to provide for their families. The city could even employ the ‘tenants’ of the housing to do the maintenance and upkeep, which would provide them with a source of income and a way out of homelessness permanently.
Ultimately, Councilman Gil Cedillo, who cast the lone no vote against the law, said it best: "We should have a war on poverty, not on the poor.” This law will increase the amount of money that the city spends on dealing with homelessness, but will do nothing to actually help people get off the streets. The ‘problem’ with homelessness for business owners of the city is that homeless people sleep on the streets and leave their belongs on the street. Why not provide these people a home where they can sleep and keep their belongings, which will provide them safety and stability so that they can better their situation. People cannot improve their lives when they are only focused on getting basic needs met such as food and shelter.
The current system of policing and penalizing people for being homeless is not effective. It further disadvantages an already disadvantaged group, and it does little to address the complaints of business owners who dislike having homeless encampments on their blocks. The practice of taking a person’s handful of possessions, which are literally all they may own, is also cruel and unnecessary. A better solution than taking from the poor is to give to the poor. For the same price of policing these people, Los Angeles could house them and offer them the supports they need to be contributing members of society, rather than burdens, as they are now seen.