DSA Street Watch is a DSA-LA Housing & Homelessness Committee initiative that seeks to protect the civil and human rights of unhoused people across LA County and increase public knowledge of housing and homelessness issues through a variety of direct engagements. These include but are not limited to: The tracking of encampments and encampment sweeps; consistent outreach to empower encampment residents by informing them of their rights, gather information regarding rights violations or harassment, and offer resources such as legal aid; educate surrounding business owners, property owners, and other housed residents to discourage them from calling law enforcement or sanitation on encampments; and legally observe and record video of law enforcement and sanitation encampment sweeps to ensure that unhoused people's rights are not being violated. As our profit-driven housing crisis continues to escalate, DSA Street Watch will stand with our unhoused neighbors in order to fight to end the criminalization of poverty and accelerate a socialist movement for housing as a human right and full access to public spaces.
- To provide mutual aid and resources to unhoused people
- To support the political empowerment of unhoused people
- To educate and engage housed people on housing and homelessness issues
- To decriminalize poverty and homelessness
As of January 2017, there are at least 58,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles County and just over 34,000 in the city of Los Angeles. Both numbers increased over 20% since January of 2016 and increased by every significant demographic, including youth, families, veterans, and the chronically homeless. 3 out of 4 of these unhoused people in the city and county live on the street, rather than in a shelter. Some live in cars, vans, campers and RVs, tents, and makeshift shelters. The number of unhoused people far exceed the number of available shelter beds, and exceed the number of planned housing the city expects to build through Proposition HHH and Measure H funds. Low-income rental units are scarce in Los Angeles, and average rents are much higher than minimum wage workers can afford. Ultimately, tens of thousands of Angelenos have nowhere else to sleep than the street.
Sleeping in public space, whether it be in a car, a tent, or in the open, is not illegal between the hours of 9pm and 6am. However, this legal right is currently under attack. LA City Council has banned overnight parking in many areas via Los Angeles Municipal Code 85.02, and is still considering the enforcement of LAMC 56.11 city wide. LAMC 56.11 would drastically limit the amount of personal property one can possess in public space, thus leading to a further increase in police sweeps, citations, and arrests. In the past year alone, arrests of unhoused Angelinos have increased by forty nine percent, and invasive sweeps still occur under the city’s misleading ‘Operation Healthy Streets’ campaign. Sweeps conducted by police officers often lead to the illegal discarding of vital possessions such as prescription medicine or personal documents, and citations or arrests jeopardize one’s path to finding housing or jobs by instead pushing them into the criminal justice system. Some public officials suggest that 56.11 is a necessary supplement to LAMC 41.18(d) which forbids “unreasonably interfering with the free passage of pedestrians,” but the harm that 56.11 would cause to unhoused citizens far exceeds any benefits to public safety. Simply put-- both ‘Operation Healthy Streets’ and 56.11 amount to sanitation through criminalization, for too long the preferred choice of city officials as they continue to push an oppressive wave of gentrification across Los Angeles.
Regardless of whether 56.11 is enforced, the ongoing increase of interactions between unhoused people and law enforcement is deeply troubling. As agents of the racist carceral state, most police officers and private security guards approach people living on the street-- a majority of whom are black and brown people-- as suspects to be interrogated and dealt with through punitive measures. Many unhoused people suffer from substance abuse and/or mental health issues, and the antagonistic approach of the police can escalate into violent confrontation-- including several recent instances on Skid Row that led to officer-involved shooting deaths. In many cases, a dozen or more officers are called in to respond to a single individual having a psychiatric crisis. More recently, City Council members have praised the formation of LAPD’s ‘HOPE’ outreach teams as a more humane way to engage with the unhoused-- but while these teams do include two social workers, they still include ten police officers. This disparity is sadly unsurprising when over 54 percent of our city budget is given to law enforcement that primarily exists to protect the wealthy and police the poor. Within this market-based housing economy that continues to marginalize and force thousands of Angelenos to live on the streets, we cannot accept the continued normalization of law enforcement as effective and appropriate ‘first responders’ to our most vulnerable citizens.
Good Neighbor Guide to Encampment Sweeps
The Good Neighbor Guide to Encampment Sweeps is an educational brochure, based off a DSA-San Francisco project, informing people of the realities of homelessness and why encampments exist; the consequences of sweeps on encampment residents; and alternatives to calling the police or sanitation on encampments. This document is a tool to discourage housed people, businesses, and property owners from criminalizing people living on the streets and in encampments. For LA County, there are eight versions of this guide to reflect the resources specific to each Service Provider Area (English; Spanish; LA County Service Area Provider map). DSA-LA members will be sharing the guide at DSA events and through canvassing.
In partnership with the Los Angeles Community Action Network’s (LA CAN) highly effective ‘Community Watch’ in the heavily policed neighborhood of Skid Row, DSA Street Watch will attempt to monitor and film any interactions between law enforcement and homeless encampments across the county in order to hold the police accountable and ensure that rights are not being violated. Multiple regionally-based Street Watch teams will be trained by LA CAN members and their Community Watch Handbook to safely and legally observe and videotape law enforcement officers, and relay these tactics to unhoused residents so they themselves can hold police accountable as well. Additionally, DSA Street Watch can operate in other public spaces where law enforcement and private security are known to routinely violate people’s rights, such as the Metro Expo Line and Hollywood Farmer’s Market. As many unhoused residents possess free cell phones, a special Street Watch ‘hotline’ number will be distributed through a DSA-LA ‘Know Your Rights’ and resource guide, as well as street flyers. Residents can email or text a notification to this number whenever a sweep notice is posted, alerting Street Watch of the time and location of the sweep. They will be also be asked to text or email a notification when the LAPD illegally conducts a sweep without providing notice-- an unfortunately frequent occurrence. Recorded footage can potentially be used in legal cases against the city, as necessary.
Resource Guide for Unhoused People
This one page resource guide includes information on Know Your Rights, DSA-Street Watch, and local resources for unhoused people. This will be distributed through DSA Street Watch teams across the city. Know Your Rights information will also be communicated verbally, as DSA Street Watch will inform unhoused citizens of their rights living in public space and how to monitor police sweeps with their smartphone cameras, and fight citations, arrest, and property confiscation in court. This will also include proper protocol should the police decide to detain or arrest an unhoused person for any reason. Lawyers from LA CAN have offered their services in this effort, if and when they are needed.
Street Watch teams are well positioned to facilitate communication between unhoused individuals and the elected officials who make decisions impacting their daily lives. Street Watch teams can disseminate up-to-date information to inform unhoused individuals on upcoming votes and the latest municipal actions that impact them. Street Watch teams can offer to document comments from unhoused individuals via video or in writing and relay these comments to elected officials, providing an easily accessible platform to voice their lived experience to their representatives. As well, Street Watch teams will encourage unhoused residents to attend and speak at public forums such as City Council meetings, if possible. We will also invite unhoused residents to join us for educational outreach and tabling events to advocate for housing as a right and against the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. If proven successful, this effort can grow into other political work such as unhoused voter registration drives, petitions, voter mobilization, and direct actions.
Street Watch and Democratic Socialism
In order to achieve safe and democratically controlled housing for all, the DSA-LA Housing and Homelessness Committee is committed to abolishing neoliberal housing policies and the heavily funded police state that enforces them. Through Street Watch, we will begin reaching out to those most oppressed by these policies in an effort to alleviate the systemic pressures they face, and help empower their voices in the policy making process. We will learn from and build solidarity with other housing rights and police monitoring organizations in LA and beyond to intensify pressure on elected officials, property owners and city employees for their inhumane treatment of low income and unhoused peoples. We will also reach out to anyone who views housing inequality and the criminalization of poverty as a normality to educate them that it shouldn’t be-- that there is a viable and humane alternative to capitalism that can safely house all people if we organize together and demand it.
Street Watch Through DSA-LA
DSA Street Watch stands apart from progressive and non-profit homeless outreach efforts because we explicitly acknowledge that the housing and homelessness crisis cannot be solved through charity within the capitalist framework-- it is the capitalist system itself that is the root cause of this crisis. Therefore, we acknowledge that it is not only the private sector’s control of housing policy that forces people to live on the streets, but also the private control of health care, labor, law enforcement, and government. These intersections connect DSA-LA Housing & Homelessness Committee’s work with other DSA-LA committees and working groups that we have already begun having dialogue with, including Mutual Aid, Health Care, Prison Abolition, Sanctuary City and Electoral Politics. Street Watch will present opportunities for our growing membership to address our countywide housing crisis within their own neighborhoods, including canvassing and tabling community events with literature such as our Good Neighbor Guides; providing consistent mutual aid and resources to unhoused people; monitoring law enforcement interactions with encampment residents; speaking out in public forums; or helping to produce media content to raise awareness of such issues and pressure city officials. Local organizations such as LA CAN, Youth Justice Coalition, and White People For Black Lives have offered their assistance in this effort, and we plan to continue building impactful relationships with them and other groups across Los Angeles moving forward. With these efforts to improve both the immediate material and broader systemic needs of unhoused people, we hope Street Watch can galvanize new DSA-LA membership and expand to other DSA chapters nationwide.
How To Get Involved
Those interested in becoming involved in any aspect of the DSA-LA Street Outreach project should email hnh(at)dsa-la.org.