While it is widely agreed that the homeless situation in this country’s urban centers is problematic on many levels, there is much less agreement on how to handle the problem. In Los Angeles, there is a pervasive “sweep it under the rug” approach that simply is not working. While exceptional, the case of Ann Moody, a homeless grandmother, portrays the sheer insensitivity and fiscal folly of some of the city’s ordinances regarding the homeless population. Ann Moody has been arrested 59 times by the Los Angeles Police, primarily for sitting on a sidewalk.
The arrests have taken place over the last six years in the part of town called Skid Row. Each time the elderly woman is removed from her “spot” she returns. Moody believes that she has a right to be wherever she chooses to be and if that means sitting down, then so be it. According to a Federal Appeals Court, she is absolutely correct. The ruling, made in 2006, stated that due to the extreme lack of provided shelter, the city of Los Angeles could no longer arrest people for sleeping and sitting in public.
The city does not agree. In that same year, Los Angeles began a program called the Safer City Initiative. Based on the flawed idea that when petty crime is punished, more serious crime is prevented, in its first year, the program racked up mostly pedestrian violations. 12,000 citations were handed out. However, there are those who say that the initiative is a clever system for unfairly targeting homeless people.
Gary Blasi, a Law professor at UCLA, has led an assessment of the Safer City Initiative. When an indigent individual is cited, they are required to pay a fine and/or make a court appearance. States of poverty, drug dependency and mental illness often make it impossible for them to comply. This, of course, leads to arrests. In this way, the city skirts the Federal Court ruling handed down in 2006, but is still able to turn the homeless population into criminals.
With 59 arrests (Ann Moody now holds the distinction of being the most often arrested person in the city of Los Angeles) the grandmother has been jailed for 15 months after 14 convictions. Approximately $250,000 of the taxpayers money has been spent on keeping Moody from sitting down (there have been some arrests for selling cigarettes.) In a daily ritual that is akin to life in jail, the police drive by the tents of the homeless and shout “Time to get up!” at 6 a.m. If they are found to be sleeping or loitering after that, they are arrested for “illegal lodging.”
Most of the homeless do as they are told. Ann Moody, not so much. The corner of 6th Street and Towne Avenue is her home. She is not hurting anyone or committing any crimes. She is defying the authorities and informing her homeless friends of their rights. Though publicly sympathetic, it is widely believed that police are fed up with Moody.
The LAPD has proven they are serious, with 59 arrests for the homeless grandmother, they have made their stance quite clear. However, Ann Moody has proven a point as well. When an otherwise law-abiding citizen stands her ground, there is little to be done that will ever make her go away. The story of Ann Moody serves as a symbol for all homeless people everywhere. Homelessness is not a crime.
by Stacy Lamy