CCA Reflects: Broken Legal Framework Perpetuates Status Quo

CCA Reflects: Broken Legal Framework Perpetuates Status Quo

Published Tuesday, June 4, 2019 12:00 pm


The results of the annual homeless count were just released, and it is no surprise that there has been a significant increase in Los Angeles. We are not alone. Most cities up and down the state are also experiencing substantial increases which then begs the question -- how can we actually end homelessness?

Results from the homeless count show that the legal framework that sets the parameters within which we can make public policy to address homelessness is broken in many ways. For example, we know the system misses people who have been on the streets the longest, and the foster care system releases youth with little or no safety net. The homeless count puts numbers on these failures with increases in chronically homeless adults and transitional age youth.

We also saw the negative effects of the legal framework that currently exists as we fought to prevent a settlement in the Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles case. We were incredibly disappointed that the City decided to treat Downtown differently than the rest of the city with a settlement that allows for unlimited goods in the public right-of-way and does nothing to provide housing or services for our homeless neighbors. We all agree that homeless individuals have the right to their personal goods -- especially their identification, medical equipment and medicines -- however, that is very different than having an unlimited amount of goods that can worsen the serious public health conditions that are already present in Downtown and the entire city. This settlement will also continue to propel the cycle of lawsuits the City has been involved in regarding homelessness, which severely limits the ability for thoughtful public discussion about long-term policy solutions. The homeless humanitarian crisis will continue to worsen when the legal framework, such as the one provided to us in Mitchell, is completely broken.

Although the homeless count shows the population has increased by 16%, it does not mean that Measure H or Proposition HHH are failures. Nearly 22,000 homeless people were housed last year, showing that there has been success but that we still need substantial systematic and legal changes. We need to continue the work of building new supportive and interim housing, outreaching to homeless individuals and making full use of other funding sources like No Place Like Home and the Homeless Emergency Aid Program. But we also need to have a legal framework that brings clarity and does not tie the City's hands in creating policies and programs that support housing and caring for homeless people. Initiatives like "A Bridge Home" are being threatened by litigation and providing storage facilities for belongings seems like a futile effort when there are no limits on the amount of goods a person can have.

Communities across the city should support new housing and services for homeless people but it becomes a challenge when the existing legal framework does not provide clarity and support existing laws. For example, L.A. Municipal Code 56.11, which governs personal goods and tents on rights-of-way, was revised after years of discussion by the City Council but never even had the chance to be implemented. This was because just weeks after it was revised, the Mitchell injunction was issued and the policy was halted in the Downtown area. We believe the City will soon begin to reconsider this law given the Mitchell settlement. When they do, the discussion should be open to the public to allow for meaningful participation. This was not the case during the Mitchell discussions, and it left the public and press in the dark until the settlement was already finalized. This cannot happen again if we want to move forward in addressing homelessness.

CCA partners with many organizations to be fully engaged in the complex of issue of homelessness, including service providers who work daily to directly improve the lives of homeless individuals. We will continue to convene elected officials, city departments and the LAPD to meet with our members to exchange ideas and understand challenges. As cities across the country figure out their legal challenges, like what we are seeing in Boise, CCA will continue to learn best practices from others and elevate the dialogue about the legal framework and systemic challenges that undermine efforts to end homelessness.