‘State of Emergency’: L.A. City Council Paralyzed by Homeless Crisis

Skid Row Los Angeles (Ari Perilstein / Getty for Chemical X)
Ari Perilstein / Getty for Chemical X

A member of the Los Angeles City Council is set to introduce a resolution Wednesday calling on California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a “state of emergency” regarding the state’s growing homeless population.

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News on Tuesday, city council member Joe Buscaino wrote that state and local bureaucracies were preventing the city from helping homeless people and cleaning up the streets:

During the past several years, my staff and I have been working tirelessly to secure funding and approval for projects that will move people experiencing homelessness from sidewalk encampments into housing, including nearly 300 temporary emergency shelter beds, 500 permanent supportive housing units, and a homeless storage facility.

We have also worked to develop immediate and near-term solutions that address the real world, street-level consequences of sidewalk encampments, and help protect public health and safety; including mobile restrooms, mobile showers, storage, off-street safe parking, and even hiring homeless individuals to pick up litter.
Each of these solutions has been implemented at an excruciatingly slow pace, with roadblocks and red tape imposed by numerous government bureaucracies — including several in our own city — at every step of the way.

Buscaino argued that a “state of emergency” declaration under state law would give Gov. Newsom to “the authority to suspend any statute, rule or regulation, if he believes strict compliance would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay the mitigation of the effects of the emergency.”

Meanwhile, the city council failed to move forward Tuesday evening on a new proposal to limit the areas in which homeless people can sleep on the sidewalks. The Daily News reported that advocates for the homeless protested the idea of clearing out homeless encampments before alternative shelter was available. Concerned residents complained about finding hundreds of hypodermic needles near homeless encampments, and that many residents of the camps did not want to use rehabilitation services.

The Los Angeles Times added: “Progressive activists have called to end the criminalization of homeless people and roll back rules that bar sleeping on sidewalks. Some community groups, in turn, want the city to ramp up enforcement of such rules to eliminate filth and blight.”

One of the thorniest problems is whether the federal courts would even allow the city to clear homeless people off the streets, after last year’s ruling in Martin v. Boise, when the Ninth Circuit held that punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street when there was no shelter available elsewhere violated their Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The city is facing an urgent public health crisis, as the homeless population has soared to nearly 60,000 people, many of whom have no access to bathroom facilities. Last week, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson visited the city and warned of a potential “epidemic.”

President Donald Trump has suggested that the federal government could intervene, using its own emergency powers — a proposal that Gov. Newsom and local leaders reject, though they have no solutions of their own.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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