The Truth About Criminalization & Homelessness In Garcetti's LA

This is a film culled from DSA-LA’s Street Watch team about what our locals leaders say is happening on the streets versus the reality: relentless harassment and shakedowns by city agencies against the unhoused. If this isn’t barbarism, what is?

On May 31 2018, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) revealed what we already knew: Los Angeles’ homeless population remains obscenely high. Lost in the reporting on the new homeless count was City Hall’s continued and escalating criminalization of the unhoused. Yet LA’s occasional Mayor, Eric Garcetti, stood before the media to proclaim once again that the city has moved away from criminalization, stating:

“We cannot criminalize our way out of homelessness, we must humanize our way out of it.”

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson added:

“The number of people incarcerated for homeless related violations is practically zero.”

Of course, the facts tell us otherwise, and our everyday experiences witnessing the growth of encampments have confirmed it all over the city. Arrests of unhoused Angelenos continue to rise, with most offenses based on laws created specifically to target and criminalize those living in extreme poverty. Dehumanizing police and sanitation sweeps of homeless encampments continue to endanger the physical and mental health of the unhoused by discarding and destroying their vital belongings. This is nothing new; the commodification of basic human needs like housing has led to the crises we’re now mired in, as public resources have instead been diverted to law enforcement to terrorize, criminalize, incarcerate, and hide the unhoused in the name of “public safety.”

But as the housing and homelessness crises continue to steal the spotlight from Garcetti’s preposterous presidential ambitions and in attempt to bolster their own political goals, City Council has attempted to sugarcoat the continued punitive measures against the homeless. They’ve rebranded police specifically assigned to patrol encampments as the unfortunately named ‘HOPE’ teams. More recently, Garcetti has proposed ‘Bridge to Home’ temporary shelters, which will also increase the criminalization of the poor. The City plans on spending $20 million on these new shelters, but the fine print includes a whopping $29 million for more police and sanitation sweeps around the new shelters.

This approach — throwing more police at a problem that isn’t a problem of policing — has been a proven failure. Until we begin shifting our public resources away from law enforcement and prisons and back into humane, effective solutions like permanent housing and stronger renter protections, we will continue to see growing homeless encampments in our communities.

At the homeless count presser, Harris-Dawson would also use this phrase repeatedly about the unhoused:

“We’re coming for you,” he repeated over and over. This saying probably wasn’t intended to be as menacing as it came off, but it was the ultimate tell as to the players at City Hall’s true intentions.