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LA City Council Considers New Restrictions On The Homeless


Here in Los Angeles, officials are continuing to crack down on the homeless. Weeks after passing tight restrictions on people living in vehicles, the city council is considering restricting where people can sleep and how they can behave outdoors. Here's Anna Scott from member station KCRW.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: On a block in Hollywood lined with piles of clothes and bedding, about a half-dozen homeless people sit on chairs or the pavement. Conner Linsley-Hamilton (ph) is smoking a cigarette and listing the rules that already exist for living on the streets of LA.

CONNER LINSLEY-HAMILTON: You're not supposed to be within 10 feet of a doorway, 36 inches clearance on a sidewalk. Six a.m. to 9 p.m., you're not allowed to have a tent up unless it's downpouring rain.

SCOTT: Now the city is considering more rules, including no sleeping within 500 feet of a school, park or daycare and no aggressive panhandling. Linsley-Hamilton and homeless advocates around the city say these proposed restrictions unfairly punish people already suffering.

LINSLEY-HAMILTON: Most homeless are harmless. We don't mean you any harm. We're stuck in a current situation that dictates what we have to do on a daily basis.

SCOTT: Still, sanitation and safety issues are a top municipal concern as homelessness has spread to nearly every part of the city.

DAVID RYU: The No. 1 calls from this neighborhood to my office was homeless encampments.

SCOTT: That's LA City Councilman David Ryu speaking at the opening of a new homeless shelter. He and his colleagues aren't just under pressure from residents. This week, the Trump administration sent a delegation to LA to assess the homelessness crisis. Ryu is part of the committee that voted to move forward on debating the new restrictions. Given how bad the situation is, Ryu says, it's worth discussing.

RYU: Before, you couldn't talk about homelessness. You couldn't talk about poverty because when it's out of sight, it's out of mind.

SCOTT: For years, the city has Ping-Ponged between hard-line rules and more compassionate strategies, like a special team of cops dedicated to helping the homeless. Some say this latest proposal would make parks and sidewalks accessible to everyone. Others say it's inhumane. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who would have to sign the ordinance into law, has publicly criticized the idea.

ERIC GARCETTI: You may move people away from schools and parks. And now there's more people in front of people's homes. I think it's a zero-sum game until you actually build more shelter beds and build more apartments.

SCOTT: A series of court rulings in recent years have basically said the same thing, that LA can't crack down on street homelessness until it can offer alternatives. That's one reason homelessness has become so visible around the city. It's not just that there are more people on the streets. The city attorney's office says the proposed rules would restore some limits on conduct in public spaces, as senior assistant city attorney Valerie Flores explained at a recent city hall meeting.

VALERIE FLORES: It bans behavior like speaking to a person in a manner that is so intimidating that it would cause a reasonable person to give up money or something else of value.

LINSLEY-HAMILTON: What's your definition of a reasonable person? I'm a very reasonable person.

SCOTT: Back in Hollywood, Conner Linsley-Hamilton says the proposed rules reflect an us-versus-them mentality.

LINSLEY-HAMILTON: They make it seem like every homeless person is the same. You have mental health. You have drug addiction. You have people that are just simply in a hard space in their life. But at the end of the day, we are all humans.

SCOTT: The city council is expected to vote on the proposal in the coming weeks. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "FIELD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Scott