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'A Shameful Brand': Los Angeles Attempts to Eliminate Homeless Encampments


The tents on the sidewalks are a hallmark of the city that the authorities want to banish. Meanwhile, service providers ask not to criminalize the homeless. "We need more beds, more housing," they point out.

By Alicia Victoria Lozano -

NBC News

Montgomery Garnett clutched his incense, silently trying to convince the LAPD officers that he wasn't breaking any laws by sitting on the sidewalk.

Every day, light a stick of incense on the same corner in the heart of the Skid Row neighborhood, less than a mile from the trendy Japanese restaurants of Little Tokyo and the hotspots of the Arts District. 

Garnett, a Marine Corps veteran who has lived on Skid Row for 17 years, said the incense is an offering to his homeless neighbors.

"I pray for the people here," he said.


There are many people dying in these streets

," he said. 

The Skid Row neighborhood has been mired in squalor and neglect in recent times, and city officials continue to try unsuccessfully to address the homelessness of thousands of homeless people.

The crisis has only deepened over the years

, spreading beyond the confines of Skid Row into gentrifying or affluent neighborhoods


There are now tents clogging the sidewalks and homeless people seeking shelter in cars.

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Bobby Rojas, 70, has been homeless for four years, in his tent in the middle of a homeless encampment on Skid Row on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

As the problem grows, city officials have focused on a new strategy to clear unsightly encampments, while service providers warn that there is no longer enough housing, temporary or permanent, to offer.

“The policy of criminalizing homelessness has never worked,” said Georgia Berkovich, director of public affairs for The Midnight Mission, which provides emergency and social services to the homeless.

“We need more beds.

We need more housing," he said. 

The policy of criminalizing homelessness has never worked."

Georgia Berkovich The Midnight Mission

Over the summer, the Los Angeles City Council adopted an ordinance

to prohibit homeless people from sleeping in specific places outdoors

, including certain sidewalks and parks.

The ordinance came with the promise of taking an "informed approach" to the problem.

But even before the council adopted the ordinance, security forces were already breaking up the camps. 

Protests erupted in March when activists and housing advocates clashed with police trying to remove tents and other belongings from a large encampment in Echo Park, a neighborhood near downtown.

“It was the most militarized closure of an encampment I have ever witnessed,”

said Carter Hewgley, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

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Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva was seen repeatedly over the summer working alongside deputies to sweep up encampments in the Venice Beach area, popular with tourists and wealthy residents.

“There has been a groundswell of public outrage, but frankly,

when it was just Black and Latino people confined to Skid Row, no one cared too much

about it ,” said John Maceri, executive director of The People Concern, a social services organization.

"As we started to see homelessness on the streets spread throughout the city and county in large numbers, the public really started to pay attention," he said.

A roller coaster of decisions

Throughout Los Angeles' history, the city's approach to addressing homelessness has been like a "roller coaster," Maceri said.

In the 1970s, city planners deliberately pushed homeless people further east onto Skid Row and away from the business district under a plan known as the "containment strategy."

The idea was to give a boost to downtown businesses by removing signs of deterioration.

In 1984, the Department of Housing and Urban Development named Los Angeles County “

the homeless capital of the United States

,” ushering in a new era that empowered local authorities to get rid of encampments.

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This approach continued into the 1990s and early 2000s, but the problem of homelessness continued.

Thousands of affordable units and tiny houses

Affordable housing has long been a challenge in California and most of Los Angeles, with

a typical home costing $900,000,

according to recent data from Zillow.

With this in mind, Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes Skid Row, set a goal of adding 25,000 homeless units by 2025.

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In September, his office broke ground on a new project in the Eagle Rock neighborhood that will provide 100 beds, adding to the 117 tiny houses already built in the nearby Highland Park neighborhood.

Crossed accusations, different perspectives

De León was among a majority of councilmembers who voted for the anti-encampment ordinance in July, and who later supported its expansion.

He recently clashed with activists from Street Watch Los Angeles, an advocacy group linked to the Democratic Socialists of America, whom he accused of "bribing" homeless people to stay on the streets.

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Protests continue in Los Angeles against the closure of a park where homeless people live

March 25, 202100:52

Members of the group deny the claims, saying in an emailed statement that the new camping ban zones near Skid Row are "the current version of

the same racist 'banish, criminalize, contain' strategy

used for decades." .

"Let's be clear: These options are temporary and jail-like, with no clear path to permanent housing on the horizon," part of the statement read.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who voted against the encampment ordinance, fears the city's current strategy is

more of a “band-aid” than long-term relief


“The city is very much pivoting to solve the encampment problem and not the homelessness problem,” he said.

The city is looking to solve the problem of encampments and not the problem of homelessness."

Councilman Mike Bonin

“They are motivated by a genuine concern for the public health crisis and concern for people living on the streets, but it does not respond to the problem in an adequate way,” he opined. 

“A shameful indelible mark”

Homelessness in Los Angeles has become endemic over the generations, becoming a common, albeit shameful, sight for the millions of people who live in the region.

Driven by a shortage of affordable housing and the dismantling of social services, tents and encampments have proliferated in Los Angeles, even as taxpayer-approved initiatives funnel money into new housing options.

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An aerial view of homeless encampments on Skid Row on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles.Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

De Leon said Los Angeles residents have been "very generous" with their money in funding these measures, but "the city can do much better."

Nationwide, about 580,466 people were left homeless in 2020, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

More than a quarter of them are in California, or about 161,548 people.

Of those, nearly

64,000 live in Los Angeles County


Every day, shelters and organizations work to temporarily house people living on the streets, but every day more people are left homeless.

On average,

207 people are relocated each day

to some space in the county, but at the same time,

227 people are left homeless

, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency created by the city and the county.

"It's our shameful indelible mark," de León said.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-01-23

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