Los Angeles, and the entire state of California, is facing an unprecedented and ever-worsening surge in homelessness. In a report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2020, it was estimated that the state’s homeless population increased by nearly 25,000 over the last decade to a startling 135,000 persons. Of that number, approximately 80 percent are unsheltered, a grim statistic manifested through the region’s fast-growing clusters of encampments. On Wednesday, in a heavy-handed bid to remedy the crisis, the Los Angeles City Council approved a new ordinance in a 13-to-2 vote (only councilwoman Nithya Raman and councilman Mike Bonin voted against the measure) that will limit encampments across wide swaths of the city. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the measure into law last night, July 29.
The language of the ordinance is sweeping: encampments will be prohibited within 500 feet of libraries, public parks, schools, and sidewalks, amongst other locations (including outside of homeless shelters). A site deemed to be in violation of the ordinance will be subject to review by the City Council, who will vote for clearance on a case-by-case basis. However, encampments within feet of a fire hydrant or a doorway or driveway can be cleared without council approval. The City Council has pledged to follow any clearances with outreach from “street engagement teams” composed of social workers and mental health specialists, as well as organizations that can provide accommodation for the displaced residents.
This is, of course, a hotly contested topic, and, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, residents and members of the Council are not pulling their punches. Homeless advocates question whether the proposal truly does anything to solve the city’s unhoused population that likely exceeds 41,000. Business leaders and neighborhood groups, along with supporting council members, argued that the existence of homeless encampments harms small businesses and impinges on the use of public space by other citizens.
The ordinance follows substantial financial commitments at both the municipal and state level to address homelessness. In May, Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to push through $12 billion in spending over the course of two years to address homelessness, and Garcetti has raised $1.2 billion in bonds to construct 10,000 housing units along with and has committed $1 billion to the annual city budget to alleviate the crisis.
The jury is out as to whether any of these policies will fundamentally boost affordable housing stock in Los Angeles and California, and with it turn the tide of increasing homelessness.