Los Angeles received a blow in its efforts to control homelessness when this week the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to allow homeless to live in cars throughout the City of Los Angeles. According to Los Angeles Times reporter, Maura Dolan, the law that banned the use of cars as shelters for the homeless in Los Angeles was considered discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.
“The court said the Los Angeles law failed to define the phrase, ‘living quarters’”, said Dolan.
The law that banned the homeless from using their cars as dwellings was passed in 1983. It was used as a powerful tool in the ever-increasing homeless population throughout the City of Los Angeles. According to Dolan, the Los Angeles law made it illegal for people to use a parked vehicle on a city-owned street or parking lot. Because Venice Beach falls into the jurisdiction of the City of Los Angeles , the law also applied to lots or streets owned by the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2013 approximately 58,000 homeless people live in Los Angeles County. This number is nearly 25 percent higher than in 2012. With the exception of New York City, has the largest homeless population anywhere in the Untied States. In total, there are approximately 610,000 homeless people across the United States.
“The problem of homelessness in California is particularly severe because of the climate,” said New York Times reporter, Adam Nagourney.
Los Angeles has an average temperature of roughly 78 degrees in the day and just 10 degrees lower during the night. With barely a hint of humidity or rain, the mild Mediterranean climate makes Los Angeles a favorite choice for those forced to live outdoors. In addition, Nagourney explained that other factors have contributed to the Los Angeles homeless population over the years including a court-ordered mandate to reduce the California prison population and overall federal cuts in spending for programs aimed helping the homeless.
With over 50,000 in numbers, the homeless population in Los Angeles also presents an extremely large challenge for the police. Theft, drugs, and even homicide are all crimes that the Los Angeles Police Department deal with when facing such a large population of homeless people. However, in addition to law enforcement objections to a large homeless population, Los Angeles residents also had their gripes about the homeless that included complaints about public urination, crowded parking, and general nuisance issues. So, in 2010, after a Venice Beach homeowner’s association complained to Los Angeles police, a special police task force started aggressively citing and arresting dozens of homeless people in Venice. According to Dolan, many of these people were living in their cars.
However, because of their large numbers, the homeless in Los Angeles also have a political voice. One year after the police task force took to the streets, a group of Venice Beach homeless people living in their cars sued the City of Los Angeles in federal court for discrimination and pleaded with the court to force the city to permit the homeless to live in their cars. While the group lost the initial ruling, they promptly appealed to the 9th Circuit three-judge panel. In a unanimous decision, the group of Venice homeless won their battle against Los Angeles.
The ruling brought both sighs of relief as well as outrage to the City of Los Angeles. While the ruling remains controversial, the court was clear in its verdict: Los Angeles can no longer force homeless people from living in their cars.
By Vincent Aviani