Opinion: Our Efforts and Limitations in Addressing Homelessness at Poinsettia Park

As field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, I spoke at recent meetings of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch and the West Hollywood Eastside Neighborhood Watch, as well as other community meetings, where I described in great detail the legal protocol regarding homeless encampments in the City of Los Angeles. The emotional charge of these meetings was sparked by the current condition of a homeless encampment near Poinsettia Park, just south of West Hollywood in the City of Los Angeles. A large number of residents attended each meeting in order to voice their concerns related to this encampment.

Following requests from our office, a cleanup of the Poinsettia Park encampment was scheduled for March 21, but it was rescheduled for this Wednesday, April 4 due to warnings of heavy rainstorms. Of course, I understand all frustrations, and so does Councilmember Koretz. In fact, the Council member has made it clear that cleaning up encampments in neighborhoods like this is his number one priority. As evidenced by a growing number of encampments, homelessness remains a genuine epidemic throughout not the just the City of Los Angeles, but the entire county as well.

Notice of Poinsettia Park cleanup

Results of the late January annual homeless count are due out in several weeks. In the meantime, the most recent estimates suggest there are over 60,000 people who are homeless countywide. To put that in perspective, this equates to total populations of all but 30 of the county’s 88 municipalities (e.g. the populations of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are both approximately 35,000).

Unfortunately, we (and all L.A. City agencies, including LAPD) must abide by the strict guidelines put forth by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the city’s settlement of the Jones v. Los Angeles court case. Our actions are also guided by the outcomes of two other homeless–related court cases decided in the last several years.

In the Jones case, the Ninth Circuit declared enforcement of L.A.’s law against sleeping on the streets unconstitutional, calling it “one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States.” We are now left to deal with the effects of this settlement.

Along with the help of all relevant city and county agencies, we are working tirelessly with what tools we have available to address the situation. Based on Jones and one of the other court rulings, along with subsequent directives from the L.A. City Attorney, we are extremely limited in what actions we can take to deal with the homeless who sleep outdoors on public property and the disposition of their personal belongings.

There is a legal protocol that must be followed. The Bureau of Sanitation coordinates with LAHSA (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) and LAPD HOPE (Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement) Teams to set a cleanup date when a request is made. Before that cleanup can happen, three attempts to offer services and a 72-hour notification must be posted at the site. This is in order to give the homeless persons sufficient notice and time to remove their belongings. At that point, except in the case of rain or severe cold, the three agencies can commence a “cleanup enforcement action.”

Such enforcement is, however, constrained by the court’s requirement that the city provide reasonably convenient storage for the homeless person’s belongings. However, creating storage locations has been as difficult as creating any other solutions for homelessness in Los Angeles, and there are none anywhere near Poinsettia Park at the moment.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz

Councilmember Koretz would like to keep his community informed of the actions his staff has taken to address the Poinsettia Park encampment:

As the Councilmember’s field deputy for the area, I regularly participate in community meetings and forums to address concerns from residents in the immediate area. I also speak one-on-one with constituents about this complex issue several times each day in person or by phone.

Chief Deputy of Public Safety Greg Martayan and I have met with LADWP officials at the Poinsettia Place Substation to make clear to them that safety and security at the site are of greatest importance. The Council member has called for updated security measures to be taken at the site, including additional lighting in and around the facility.

Our office has continuously rejected calls to make this a permanent or semi-permanent encampment by adding 24-hour bathrooms and showers. While Councilmember Koretz is working to create housing and services within the city, he believes Poinsettia Park should be maintained as a park, not a tent encampment.

I also work daily with LAPD Senior Lead Officer Inga Wecker to address criminal activity in the area. Officer Wecker has worked diligently to enforce park hours and maintain the integrity of the park, within the legal constraints that she must work.

Councilmember Koretz’s legislative consultant, Jim Bickhart, and I have met with leadership from LAHSA to convey constituent concerns and complaints, and we’ve urged LAHSA to step up services to help get these individuals off the street. We’ve also asked to be updated on the deployment of a Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team funded by Measure H that will help speed the delivery of services, shelter and housing to homeless individuals.

I work with Poinsettia Park Director Glenn Campaña on a regular basis to address park issues. This often involves bringing in other city agencies. As well, I also coordinate with West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station and public safety staff.

I make it a point to visit the location several times per week to document its state and convey the urgent need for a cleanup to the Bureau of Sanitation. Unfortunately, the Bureau’s resources are spread thin, with Council District 5 being just one of the 15 Council districts in the City of Los Angeles. Our office works daily to ensure that we receive our share of city resources.

Jim Bickhart also meets monthly with the Mid-City Homeless Coalition (made up of representatives from area Neighborhood Councils, LAHSA, LAPD, other service agencies, and other interested parties and institutions) to monitor efforts to deliver services, shelter and housing to local homeless persons, and develop strategies for addressing problems in the area, including Poinsettia Park.

Ultimately, the challenge we all face is the fact that, even as Measures H and HHH are beginning to deliver more services and, eventually, housing (for which about one-third of those currently homeless are expected to qualify), there continue to be large numbers of homeless people in our city. The first HHH-funded housing, shelter and storage projects have either just gone into construction or are going through their approval processes, which means it will be at least a year or two before any of them are available for use.

Tents sheltering homeless people near Poinsettia Park

In the meantime, we have to constructively engage with each other to address the situation on the ground. The generosity and compassion of the voters who passed the two measures are generating a 10-year funding stream, but they don’t create a magic wand that will instantaneously eliminate the tragedy we see on our streets every day.

Homelessness didn’t suddenly appear in Los Angeles in the last few years, it’s been a growing problem for decades. In fact, it’s growing as fast as we try to help homeless people find places to live so they can get off the street. Lost jobs, evictions, high housing costs and a variety of other circumstances push a wide variety of people into homelessness, augmented by a number of new arrivals from outside the city.

Councilmember Koretz, like all of us, is frustrated that there is no turnkey solution for this enormous problem. What we can do is continue to do our best to stay on top of it and to create meaningful responses and solutions that will, over time, reduce the homeless population and reduce the impact of the homeless on our neighborhoods. We will continue to work with Sanitation to schedule cleanups in order to diminish the immediate impact on the area. We will make this location our priority for regular cleanup enforcements.

We welcome any suggestions neighbors may have to help us address the issue of homelessness through short- and long-term solutions.

I certainly understand that the vast majority of residents in this neighborhood are extremely compassionate people who are simply frustrated by the quality of life issues presented by this encampment. Please know that Councilmember Koretz, my colleagues and I are working diligently within the current legal framework to address these issues. Again, it is going to take time, but we are on it. This Wednesday, April 4, a cleanup enforcement will take place as the result of weeks of follow-up by LAPD, our office and residents.

Let’s continue to work together on this issue and others. Thank you for your vigilance, patience and compassion.

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  1. Here’s the Jones vs. Los Angeles Settlement Agreement. It’s one page long: http://wetnostril.homestead.com/JonesSettlement.html.

    It primary settlement term is:

    “The Los Angeles Police Department will issue a policy directive stating that it will not enforce Los Angeles Municipal Code (“LAMC”) section 41.18(d) between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., except as set forth in Paragraphs 2 and 3 below. The Los Angeles Police Department will keep this policy in effect and operate according to this policy until an additional 1250 units of permanent supportive housing are constructed within the City of Los Angeles, at least 50 per cent of which are located in Skid Row and/or greater downtown Los Angeles.”

    In 2015, L.A.’s Housing and Community Investment Department reported that the requirements of the settlement had been met: 1,170 CH (chronically homeless) units had been built, including 656 in the downtown Skid Row area, with another 206 under construction, for a total of 1,376.

    So Jones is no longer in effect. The Jones Settlement Agreement also allows for LAMC section 41.18(d) to be enforced within 10 feet of any operational and utilizable entrance, exit, driveway or loading dock.

    So we have a situation where a defunct settlement agreement is being enforced, but several laws and municipal codes are not?

  2. I’ve become quite the homebody lately. However the other day, I walked to Pavilions with my dog.

    The number of seriously mentally I’ll homeless was shocking (weekday late afternoon).

    There is no “solution to the homeless problem” anywhere. It’s about providing Mental Care Access & Adequate Treatment.

    Building motels/rooms for the local population will do nothing. They may sleep in the rooms, but will spend the days like all the previous … In need of mental health care and left wandering the streets … Getting more confrontational & potentially a real threat. (I had my dog, and wasn’t affraid, but I was upset that a few would taunt, follow closely & cause my dog to become very distressed.

  3. My biggest personal problem with this encampment is the state of the restrooms at Poinsettia and Plummer Parks. As I have young children, we frequent the playgrounds, but are unable to use the restrooms because of the terrible state they are in. Potty training disaster!

    Given the cold-hearted comments above, there may be little to no interest in this, but it would be great to set up some sort of volunteer network to clean restrooms. If our city isn’t doing it, can we pitch in to make it better?

    1. Here’s an idea. How about a volunteer group to buy the cleaning supplies that the homeless people can use to keep the restrooms clean. I clean my own bathroom and don’t need a volunteer network to handle that for me. These people are not incapable of performing simple tasks and we do a disservice to them by treating them as if they are.

  4. While it is nice to hear about what the City is trying to do, the simple fact is that it is nowhere near enough to address this problem. Instead of making excuses, I would like someone at the City to acknowledge what it has done wrong to help create this mess and what it is doing wrong as they finally attempt to address it.

    There’s a reason why L.A. has a homeless problem that is MUCH worse than surrounding cities. It’s because the City has created an environment that is welcoming to homeless people. We have supported tax and fee hikes that were supposed to deliver more police. Guess what – they didn’t. Instead, the City used these monies to give raises to officers, not hire new ones. At the same time, voters got duped into passing Prop 47 partly because most politicians refused to take a stand on it. That said, our police have also made it worse. Instead of arresting people on the reduced charges, they have decided to stop making arrests altogether because they believe it is not worth the effort. Sorry, but that is not their decision to make. If the homeless are now committing misdemeanors (that used to be felonies), charge them with the misdemeanor. As dumb as Prop 47 was, it was never intended to have the effect of basically legalizing crime.

    So here’s what I recommend. Huddle with your boss and figure out ways that the City can step-up its efforts. Figure out how to hire more police. Get the police to enforce the laws that are on the books and if new laws need to be passed, pass them or lobby our state representatives to pass them. You guys have the power and are acting like you are powerless.

  5. I’m very fond of Paul Koretz and wonderful wife Gail and Robert Oliver is a stand up guy and well serving Koretz deputy…..but…. West Hollywood has always had its own creative solutions to problems.

    This op-ed only highlights a ‘tow the line’ and defense of initiatives being taken at the county level. It does nothing to solve the problem locally. It also highlights the conflict of interest when a current deputy serving an LA city councilman also is serving on the Public Safety Commission. Local residents echo problems only to be answered with boiler plate answers from a county perspective.

    What is clear is that the problem is growing and local politicians and commissioners have done little to address or anticipate the problem or develop any solutions. We can help alleviate local homeless issues when we don’t get bundled into the county’s line of thinking and let local ideas surface to solve the issues. One of our homeless programs with Ascensia is a perfect example of how our dollars help remove homeless form our streets in Weho and offers those services in Glendale. Ascensia picks up homeless in need and provides shelter, food, medical if needed and help off the streets. West Hollywood programs and ideas should be a template for how to solve the problem countywide and NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

  6. It’s sickenkng that our parks and other public spaces that are funded by tax-payers are systematically being destroyed by those that aren’t working, paying taxes or contributing to the community at all. Yes, there are those down on their luck and lost their jobs and need a helping hand to get back on their feet. I’m not taking about them. They are a minority. I’m taking about the vast majority of homeless that are not doing anything to better themselves and are happy doing their drugs, drinking their life away or are mentally ill and refuse treatment. They are destroying everything that everyone else is working hard to maintain and we’re worried about their rights?! Won’t be long before it’s all gone and we’re right down there with them.

  7. I have a solution… we have to fight to change the law! These judges and their decisions drastically affective the well-being of the general public allowing the homesless or “bums” as they used to be called to destroy our neighborhoods.

  8. Thank you. My biggest concern is crime. If you can’t kick them out of the encampment, you can still enforce other laws. You have the right to arrest them for trespassing, burglary, theft, etc. So as nice as your little essay was, you ignored the crimes the transients are commiting, which in turn, would legally get them off the streets. Enforce tresspassing on private property. Public urination. There are many crimes that can be enforced that might make some of the transients move to a different city. So you really aren’t actually doing all you can.

    1. I’m pretty sure that the police are already arresting ANYONE for theft, burglary and trespassing, when possible. And I’m not sure that “showering” the homeless population with public urination tickets is really the big solution we’ve all been looking for.

      I think you may be missing some of the nuances of this complex issue.

      I agree that LA needs to be tough on crime… for everyone!

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