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.
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.
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.
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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