Los Angeles Might Start Punishing Homeless People Based on Where They Sleep

Like schools, parks, or otherwise “crowded public sidewalk areas.”

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Los Angeles officials are considering a new law to stop homeless people from sleeping near schools, parks, or otherwise “crowded public sidewalk areas.”

Some 60,000 homeless people barely scrape by in Los Angeles County, where there’s a ballooning rental crisis. Many of those people sleep in tents or cars because homeless shelters are already packed. But Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell proposed a new rule that would punish people based on where they sleep.


The city’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee drafted the rule Wednesday and submitted it to the full city council for consideration. The council has not yet vetted the proposal, according to the Los Angeles Times, and it will have to go through lawyers before it heads to a vote.

“The reality is we have sensitive areas to consider and as city leaders we must strike the balance between the needs of those experiencing homelessness and keeping our public spaces safe and accessible,” O’Farrell said in a statement to the Times Thursday.

It’s unclear how Los Angeles’ proposal will legally jibe with last September’s federal court decision on so-called “camping bans.” In the case of Martin v. Boise, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cities within its circuit — Los Angeles included — couldn’t ticket people for sleeping on the street if they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

The ruling also determined anti-camping laws were broadly unconstitutional and a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. Cities were only allowed to ticket people if they were refusing shelter or services. Because so many West Coast cities lack enough shelter beds to adequately house a growing homeless population, the ruling made many camping bans across California, Washington and Oregon unenforceable. But L.A. Senior Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores told the Los Angeles Times that the ruling also allows for a bit of wiggle room by permitting camping bans in particular locations at particular times. Los Angeles’ proposed ban is still pretty sweeping, though, by enforcing removal near essentially any crowded area. The proposal also does not set a particular time during which the ban is either enforceable or unenforceable, nor describe how the ban might be enforced if passed.

Los Angeles-based attorneys are also hard at work trying to get Martin v. Boise in front of the Supreme Court. Gibson Dunn, the firm representing Boise in its appeal filed a petition this week and has started soliciting “friend-of-the-court” briefs from other West Coast cities.

Cover image: A homeless woman smokes as she waits for city crews to clean the area near Los Angeles City Hall Monday, July 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)