LAPD Does Not Spell HOPE: A DSA-LA Statement on the 2018 Homeless Count

“The way the city treats us out here, it feels like genocide.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Echo Park, recently deceased.*

Los Angeles County is releasing their estimate of the number of residents that are unhoused. We at the Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles believe that this number is absolutely unconscionable — it should be zero. As the homeless population of Los Angeles is disproportionately Black and Latinx, this crisis represents the continued, systemic racialized violence that should not be tolerated in a supposedly progressive city like ours. Earlier this year, the Department of Mental Health reported that 831 unhoused Angelenos died in 2017, mostly due to treatable medical conditions. How many will die in 2018? One thing is certain: County and City leadership are actively making this ongoing humanitarian crisis worse by further criminalizing, harassing, and banishing homeless individuals, all while publicly claiming that they are working to help them.

We demand that Mayor Garcetti and City Council immediately place a moratorium on all quality-of-life arrests and citations, and redirect all resources allocated for LAPD homeless outreach to fund permanent supportive housing.

“Today (an LAPD HOPE team) came out here, they harass us pretty frequently. Today they came out and I was put in handcuffs for pretty much nothing; for trying to grab some personal property of mine, things that I paid for, bought. But I was put in handcuffs because they said they were waiting for, to give me a bag. I don’t know the law too well, but if you ask me that’s abusing that power - because it doesn’t just do something to me physically it does something to me mentally. It’s like, shocking that they can just do that for no reason.  Instead of coming to protect and serve, they’re just burning us.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Hollywood

Mayor Eric Garcetti will try to reassure the public with offensively weak short-term and long-term solutions to this crisis. The city’s current plan to permanently house the homeless, HHH, was insufficient to begin with, and is now dealing with a severe funding shortfall; current estimates are that it will build fewer than 6,000 instead of the promised 10,000 units of permanent supportive units over a ten year span. This is significantly less than even the number of housing units that are taken off the market by AirBnB, and very obviously does not match the scale of the crisis.

“You come here and tell homeless people that they have 15 minutes to decide what they want to keep and what they want to throw away. That’s wrong. That’s harassment.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno to LAPD in Venice

“Offer me an apartment and I’ll take it, but I’m not going back to one of those shelters. I’d rather pay rent to stay in my tent.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Echo Park

In the short term, Garcetti has decided to shift the narrative away from permanent housing, claiming in his recent State of the City address that we are in a “shelter crisis” and putting increased spending on temporary bridge housing. Shelter is needed, but with strict rules, scant shelter beds, and limited hours of operation, these temporary shelters will not provide relief for the thousands who live on our streets -- many of whom have already had negative experiences in this flawed shelter system. The reality is that these new shelters will be trojan horses for even more criminalization, property confiscation, and banishment of the unhoused. This is immediately clear from the fact that the $29 million slated for law enforcement is higher than the $20 million going into shelters. Mayor Garcetti himself has promised that any neighborhood that allows a shelter will become a targeted enforcement zone by the LAPD Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (HOPE) teams as well as the Bureau of Sanitation.  Regarding this new shelter strategy, Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently stated “If [the homeless] refuse to go [to a shelter], we have every right to clean the area and move them along.” Move them along to where, Councilmember? And at what cost?

“We were not informed until this morning that we had to move. A lot of us lost all our stuff (in a sanitation sweep). My neighbor lost everything. He was walking around after like he lost his soul. That’s the kind of thing that makes a person want to hurt themselves.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Echo Park

“I tried to commit suicide the other night because (sanitation) took my stuff. I was freezing outside. I was freezing. I thought the only way I could stop this was to cut myself… they left me with no money in my pocket and all my stuff gone.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Venice

“You want me to put my whole life in one bag, in 15 minutes?” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Hollywood

When the City claims that sanitation “clean-ups” are necessary for public health and safety, it is certainly not for the health and safety of the unhoused. These expensive sweeps actively harm and dehumanize unhoused individuals, violently disrupting their lives and criminalizing their existence. Police show up in numbers to intimidate and threaten the unhoused with arrest if they don’t vacate the “clean up zone.” Via LAMC 56.11, Sanitation and Police force the unhoused to shove whatever belongings they can fit into a 60 gallon trash bag, and leave the rest behind. While they claim to store peoples belongings, Sanitation more often discards and destroys vital items left behind such as tents, sleeping bags, bikes, medicine and personal documents. They also rarely ever power wash the sidewalks after a sweep.

The unhoused residents generally come right back to the same spot once sanitation has left -- only this time with fewer or no belongings. Social and Mental health workers are never present during these sweeps, and Police will publicly shame and blame the unhoused for ‘refusing’ services and housing offered to them -- even though housing for them either does not exist, or has years long waitlists. The only beneficiaries of this violent process are nearby property owners who would rather not see the poverty that our capitalist system continues to create. Ultimately, this shelter-and-sweeps plan has nothing to do with ending homelessness -- it has everything to do with making it disappear from public view.   

“It was a travesty. It seems like it’s been happening two days a week. It doesn’t matter if you’re here with your stuff or not - they’re just taking it all from you. The limit got taken off the 60 gallon thing, and they’re not honoring it. You can be as neat as you want and comply and they’ll still take it all from you. You try to walk the line, but in the end, they’re going to do whatever they want to do.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Koreatown

Outreach to the unhoused should never include guns and handcuffs. Yet for the thousands of Angelenos who are forced to live on our streets, that’s almost all they get. Under Garcetti’s leadership, Herb Wesson, Jose Huizar, and City Council at large have once again fallen in line to support a swell in criminalization and banishment that has risen hand-in-hand with the surge in gentrification. Using misleading names for new initiatives like ‘HOPE’, ‘HEART’ and ‘RESET’ that supposedly feature officers with ‘mental health training’, the city has attempted to rebrand as they double-down on the same failed strategy of ‘broken windows’ style policing across our city. The unhoused continue to be targeted for minor infractions and misdemeanors such as having one’s tent up between the hours of 6am-9pm -- low hanging fruit for police officers with nothing better to do. LAPD’s RESET, for example, has routinely sent foot patrols of ten police officers all together, searching tent-to-tent in Skid Row. Police will issue citations and use these quality-of-life ordinances as a pretext to run names for arrest warrants, search tents, and confiscate property. Police officers and City Council members will use racist and inflammatory rhetoric to justify and normalize this failed strategy to the public, citing ‘gangsters,’ ‘predators,’ ‘drug dealers’ and ‘addicts’ who live in tents.  With nowhere else to go, thousands of unhoused Angelenos are criminalized for simply trying to survive and exist in public space.

“Why do we have to be gone by six am? We don’t have resources to go to these places, they’re not even open at that time, so why do we have to be gone by six? Things like that make this unbearable… Where do they expect me to go? Where do they expect me to be that’s ok and I’m not loitering? You gotta give me a place to go.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Koreatown

This approach not only harms our unhoused community members -- it consumes vast public resources. Officers arrested 14,000 homeless people in 2016, which was a 31% increase from 2015, according to the LA Times. One in six arrests in 2016 were of homeless people. Arrests continued to increase in the first half of 2017, and a UCLA study found arrest of the homeless to be 20% of the LAPD’s total bookings. According to a study prepared for L.A. County’s Chief Executive Office, each arrest costs between $4,096.12 - $4,530. In addition, administering and clearing a misdemeanor charge costs the government an estimated $380.00, and if applicable, probation typically costs the County of Los Angeles about $555 per month. Los Angeles is therefore spending over $63 million dollars per year merely to incarcerate and surveil un-housed populations.  

Mayor Garcetti’s failed homelessness policy has a disproportionate effect on black and latinx people. According to the 2016 PIT count, 39% of the homeless people in LA County (not including Glendale, Long Beach, and Pasadena) were black, but only 8% of the larger population is black. There was a 63% increase in Latinx homelessness.  In 2016, two thirds of the homeless people that were arrested were black or Latinx, and the top five charges were for nonviolent or minor offenses.

“A cop woke us up saying ‘Wake up everybody! Tents down, tents down, it’s gonna be a long day!’ I was like ‘is sanitation coming today?’ And the cop said ‘yeah, later on today’ and I said ok, but you’re supposed to post a (24 hour) notice’ and he said ‘I am the notice.’ ...They took my friend to jail, and they’ve thrown out his tent twice.” — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Hollywood

We demand that the City impose an immediate moratorium on the enforcement of the following ‘quality-of-life’ ordinances that target and criminalize the unhoused:

  • LAMC 41.18(a) LAMC 41.45
  • LAMC 41.18(d) 647(B)PC                    
  • LAMC 56.11 25620BP
  • LAMC 85.02 P.C.1320(a)
  • LAMC 63.44(d)   V.C. 40508(a)
  • LAMC 41.47

We demand that the funds used to issue these citations and arrest people for failing to appear in court on their citations be used instead to provide permanent supportive housing.

We further demand the immediate removal of LAPD from all homeless outreach, and that any public funding designated to law enforcement to ‘address’ homelessness be immediately diverted to fund permanent supportive housing.

We cannot continue to address systemic poverty and inequity with police and prisons. It is well documented that homelessness in Los Angeles is caused by our failing social safety net, a failed war on drugs, and the unregulated commodification of housing, which has led to an increase in evictions, foreclosures, and the skyrocketing cost of rent. The LA Times has reported: “In just six years, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles County has increased 67%, from about $1,200 to $2,000, according to Zillow’s Rent Index. The median household income during the same period increased only 23%, from $52,280 in 2011 to $64,300 in 2017.Los Angeles needs to protect its existing affordable housing while it works to build low-income housing units.  Los Angeles must commit to expanding rent control and removing loopholes should Costa-Hawkins be repealed. City owned vacant buildings should immediately be converted into permanent supportive housing. If City Hall took this problem seriously, they would redistribute wealth to match the scale of the crisis. But just like the police on the street, our elected leadership have shown that they answer not to the many of Los Angeles, but to the white, wealthy few who seek to sweep working class and unhoused peoples out of sight. We at DSA-LA will continue fighting for the many and abolishing the capitalist system, making housing a human right.

“Everybody was putting their stuff away and another set of cops came down here and they just starting taking away all bulky items, just ripping your stuff away, throwing it away. If you had a bike and it didn’t have the two tires on it, they took your bike…. But they went through your tent if you were here or not and they took whatever they wanted pretty much. They even took my personal, my wallet and my cell phone. They put it in a big chomper trash can and they just chomped it all up… they took all my clothes, they took three bikes that were all registered to me, I paid cash for two of them They took my leather jackets, some of my dead mother’s personal belongings, my jewelry, my wallet, my cell-phone…. All my bedding, and another tent I was gonna give my friend, they took all of it…. I guess they can do what they want to do. Someone needs to take charge, and just please help the homeless out; they can wipe out your existence out here very quickly...  I just did laundry too, and they took all my clean clothes and all my social services paperwork… You can be as neat as you want and comply and they still just taking it from you.”  — anonymous unhoused Angeleno in Hollywood

*All quotations in this statement were gathered by DSA-LA members, with the permission of our unhoused neighbors, as part of our Street Watch program. Some have been transcribed from video testimony.