Long Beach Residents Empowered Fights For Housing Rights

S1: For years, there have been these rules on the books about who can live where in Los Angeles, and you can’t live on the street. But these rules, they have not really worked out

S2: during this pandemic. LA’s streets of shame have gone wildly unchecked, we’ve seen.

S1: This is from a local news report last year, so

S3: tents have been getting bigger and bigger like this one under the 101 Freeway in Hollywood with its own slide.

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S1: The reporter here is chronicling what he calls McMansion tents. He finds a couple of unhoused people in their own inflatable pool on a sidewalk. Even what looks like a tiki bar for people living on the street.

S3: City sanitation workers invited the I-Team to look inside this double wide tent that had its own working shower, a kitchen with a grill and a range hood, air conditioning, even a doorbell.

S1: The thing is, technically authorities can give unhoused people 24 hours to move their stuff, and if they don’t, they can sweep everything up and clear it out. But Ben Oreskes, who writes about homelessness over at the L.A. Times, he says there are just too many of these encampments to sweep at this point. Authorities can’t keep up. Where would they even start?

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S2: There are encampments like this in every in every council, district, in every neighborhood. And that really scrambled the city’s sort of enforcement of rules on the street. And basically they they created a sort of cutout that that allowed people to sleep on the street, but said you had to take your tent down at six or seven a.m..

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S1: Was that happening? No. Now, Los Angeles City Council has said they will decide which encampments go and which encampments stay in the next few weeks. Signs are going to go up at agreed upon locations, warning the homeless. They’ve got 14 days to pack up and leave. Which locations get cleared are going to be determined, not by who needs the most help, but by feedback from the public voters.

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S2: And that’s how we’re going to prioritize the finite amount of resources we have. This is a departure from sort of what is seen as best practices or what L.A. was doing, which is we’re going to help the people who need the most help acuity based. You’re the sickest person. We’re going to find you and we’re going to help you.

S1: Today on the show, we’re giving L.A. City Council more granular control of the streets help fix Los Angeles Homelessness problem, or will it only make it worse? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. Ben Oreskes says to understand why City Council members gave themselves a new power to clean up city streets, you’ve got to understand just how much of a lightning rod Homelessness has become over the last few months.

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S2: We watched through the winter as residents were angry about some of these encampments and parks across the city, and that came to sort of head in the spring of of this year. And we saw in March a clearing of an encampment in Echo Park Lake at Echo Park Lake, which is sort of a very iconic spot in L.A. And it was very secretive, very traumatic for the people living in the park and also for protesters and residents of the neighborhood, some of whom were very happy that the encampment cleanup occurred.

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S1: But it was kind of like ripping off the Band-Aid. It was like all of a sudden we’re clearing people out.

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S2: So they had done a lot of outreach in advance of it and gotten it upwards of 180 people into shelters into hotels. But they basically didn’t announce when they were going to do it, and it took me reporting in the L.A. Times for the public to know. Breaking right now a showdown over clearing out the homeless in Echo Park. Activists squaring off with L.A. police officers right now. Right, right. So this was the first of these big encampment cleanups that would kind of define the politics of Homelessness over the last six eight months.

S1: Did the City Council look at what happened in terms of clearing Echo Park and think? That’s a success we want to do more like that.

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S2: Yeah, yeah. The mayor called us success. Everyone called it a success. I think there were lessons. I think people saw Echo Park and saw the amount law enforcement were there really to to to address the protesters who had sort of set up around the park. And and a lot of people were arrested, including one of my colleagues. And I think the result of that was people recognizing, you can’t do these things last minute, they have to be telegraphed far in advance. So it was not lost on people how angry their constituents were about the secrecy around that. That said, there were also people who are very grateful that the park is clean and open again.

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S1: Ben says watching what happened in Echo Park, wealthier housed residents got more empowered. They looked at other encampments like one in Venice Beach, and they wondered why those weren’t being cleared to so a city councilmember, Joe Buscaino. He is running for mayor, by the way, he essentially forced a vote that would give individual council members the power to target specific locations in their districts.

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S2: Joe Buscaino in the summer uses this procedural move where he pulled the bill out of committee and forced the full City Council to take a vote on it. And it meant that very quickly members of the City Council were forced to, like, take a position on this.

S1: He wanted people to say where they stood

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S2: exactly, and he wanted to shame them for the ones who wouldn’t vote for these rules.

S1: And just to put Joe Buscaino in context, he’s really made Homelessness a big part, a central issue for him as he readies to run for mayor in 2022. He has an ad. It’s got rock and music

S3: not too long ago, this park was filled with tents and trash.

S1: It was a mess. And he is himself erecting a little tiny house in my district.

S3: We did as much as we could. We made temporary housing immediately available. We got a majority of the people

S1: off the streets, so you can tell this is like a core issue for him.

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S3: The lack of citywide policy and ordinances have hampered any real progress.

S2: I’m looking at a mailer that I was sent. I’m an L.A. voter from Joe Buscaino and his sort of nascent effort to get a ballot measure about Homelessness on the bill. The headline of it is it’s time we end encampments. No exceptions. So I think that kind of sums up where he stands. But Joe would say his view of it is a little more holistic. He feels like the state of the streets is unacceptable and that, like we, he has expanded in his district the amount of shelter and and that the combination of those two should be the way we move forward and in his view of expanding services, is more shelter now, more permanent housing. But so last summer, in July, he pulls this bill out and he makes his colleagues take this tough vote. And what comes of it is that they end up creating new rules, basically banning sitting, sleeping in line in certain areas.

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S1: Previous bans on camping ran into a problem. There wasn’t anywhere for unhoused people to go once their belongings got swept away. And a federal court ruling had actually made it illegal to clean up encampments if there weren’t any shelter beds available. Pandemic stimulus money changed all that temporary housing like hotel rooms, even tiny homes that got assembled all over the city opened up thousands of beds. So now outreach teams can give residents notice that a place to sleep, along with other resources, are going to be available once a camp is demolished. What’s unique about this ordinance, Ben says, is that goal of Joe Buscaino is to allow council members like him to target specific encampments in their own districts. That means people who are not in an encampment targeted by a city council person don’t end up getting the same access to resources, though, which has some observers questioning whether the policy is really just about optics.

S2: It’s sort of this cart before the horse approach in the eyes of many of these members. They have proceeded full steam ahead with the the voting and kind of blocking off areas of the city. But they haven’t necessarily hired the people to do the act, to do the outreach. They already have some but that haven’t expanded it and haven’t really shown that they’re doing the outreach work out there. So for many, this felt like a backwards priorities. And while there were these two things they did over the summer, they are definitely proceeding with much more urgency. About one of them.

S1: Is this law aimed at helping homeless people or helping City Council members maybe exert more control over their districts and possibly run for mayor?

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S2: I think if you spoke to advocates for homeless people and other members of the council, they would have a very clear answer for that. Some of them would insist to you that this is, you know, they’re expanding the amount of resources they’ve brought to bear and and that they are helping people and that the law is almost unnecessary because the more outreach they put on the streets, the more people they can get off of those streets. This certainly has this political dimension. No one I actually spoke to for this article is disputing that, but it’s again. They recognize the anger that exists in our city right now about this issue. And they realize they can’t be seen as doing nothing about it. Not that they were doing nothing before, but in the eyes of voters they want to have very clear. Votes, decisions, actions that they can point to and say, we are addressing this issue in our city. Does this help homeless people as well? Maybe it’s created a more humane way for homeless people in law enforcement to interact. You know, one of the major parts of this is that. People will get ticketed and could get, you know, so you’d violations of the ordinance would be treated as infractions and you could get a citation. But if you’re, you know, you could get a misdemeanor if you resisted enforcement. They were trying to minimize the amount of enforcement that went with this. So maybe they took a step forward on that front. I think it’s too early to say, but certainly for people who work with homeless folks and homeless folks themselves, they view this as just another way that their lives, their existence is sort of being criminalized.

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S1: OK, so now there’s a little bit of a ticking clock, right? Because this ordinance is passed, and that means that City Council members can start putting up signs saying everyone’s got to get out of here in 14 days.

S2: Yeah, that’s that’s true. And that’s what’s happening right now. Hold on. I will pull up my handy Google spreadsheet and made of all of the votes resolutions because I’m incredibly neurotic. You know, we’re up. And over the last month, month and a half, council members have put. About 280 of these in and. That’s I mean, that’s a lot of them. And they voted and kind of signed off on about an upwards of 70.

S1: So how is this going to work?

S2: I come back to something we talked about sort of at the early onset of our conversation, which is you can put rules on the book. You can you can create new systems. Will it change what the streets look like? I think it’s really too early to say. You know, some of these locations that are being sort of blocked off. Are already not are already empty, they don’t have homeless people sleeping in them. Others do. And I think how members use this new set of rules and what spaces they decide to target are like kind of what’s somewhat interesting about the debate because it’s being used differently in different locations.

S1: When we come back is what’s happening in Los Angeles a fix or a punt? Here’s what’s weird, which is you’re telling me about the city opening up hotel rooms, motel rooms and also even building little tiny homes everywhere. But you’re also saying this is just temporary stuff, it’s not like you can stay there forever. I guess I wonder why wouldn’t they invest in more permanent housing that people could stay in for years?

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S2: So they have they have that. We have a thing called Prop H, and the goal was to build, you know, between seventy five and a ten seventy five hundred and ten thousand new units of permanent supportive housing. So this is the highest end of care. But there’s between 60 and 70 thousand homeless people in L.A. County, forty thousand in the city. It was never going to be enough. And what people who you know, are trying to help homeless people and lawyers and even people who are looking into this in a more pragmatic mind, they’re wondering the same thing. Another aspect of this that I would mention is that the federal government gave the city and state tons of money and very little sort of restrictions on how to use it. And what also was part of those packages were an enormous number of rental vouchers, essentially ways to help poor people subsidize their rent. And so for city officials, they have this moment right now where they can put people in this interim housing and hopefully move them quickly out of it.

S1: But how long will this moment last?

S2: That is the sort of million dollar question. Obviously, those hotel rooms that I mentioned to you are not going to be there forever. But also, it’s this idea that and we’ve seen this phenomenon in other cities and in L.A., where people go into interim shelter and get stuck there because of the sort of realities of the housing market. They get their voucher, but they can’t find a place to rent. They are

S1: because it’s just too expensive because

S2: it’s too expensive, because the landlords don’t want to rent to a formerly homeless person because they can rent to a person like you or me because of how crazy the housing market is here and the rental market. And so we see that many people get stuck in the shelter system and we’ll spend long periods of time in there until they sort of flame out and either don’t want to. You know, these these shelters have lots of rules. Curfews can’t have visitors, necessarily. You’re also just in a shared space, so people get sick of them.

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S1: So you’re making me feel like this city council ordinance is a big deal, but it’s also a bit of a punt because there’s a lot of temporary housing available. There’s a lot of rental assistance available right now. But it could be that in a year or two, we’re back where we started.

S2: A question I put to the mayor recently, Eric Garcetti, our mayor, was sort of some version of what you just said. It feels like there’s probably enough interim shelter. For the first wave of these resolutions that they can do right by the people and say, we have an offer of somewhere for you to go, it’s probably not perfect, but you can go there. What about the next wave of resolutions, the next wave of locations where people are sleeping and council members don’t want them to be sleeping? Where do those people go? What? What happened to the idea that you were moving people through the shelter system and those beds are now available again? What if they’re not? The lack of permanent housing on the back end will make this a sort of untenable situation or could make this an untenable situation in a year, in six months.

S1: What did he say?

S2: He said. We’ll be watching, too. We’re going to do our best. We’re going to, you know, it was not a satisfactory answer, but it’s this idea. It’s a term I hate, but I think it actually summarizes it well, throughput. You have these beds, these shelter beds and the ideal rate. You have a ratio, you have you say, you know, five permanent housing spots for every shelter bed and that you get a person into that shelter bed for 120 days, 90 days, you help them stabilize. You know, living on the streets is incredibly hard and it, you know, makes your breaks your body down. It breaks your mind down. You know, it helps a person stabilize, helps them get connected to the resources, whether it’s Social Security, disability, you know, housing vouchers, and then you quickly move them into that permanent unit. And then that bed, that shelter bed is free.

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S1: But if there’s no unit on the other side?

S2: Exactly. And so. There’s no one to disputing that the affordable housing crisis is not going to like, make or break the whole dynamic we’re describing for many people, though. They feel we can’t just sit around and do nothing until we’ve built our way out of this crisis. And there’s some measure of sympathy you have to have for those people. They don’t want to wait around for new units to go up that are very expensive, that are while there encampments on their streets. And so there’s this sort of cognitive dissonance that goes on when we have these debates because no one is disputing that there’s not enough housing. But for some people, they feel like we need to be doing more to keep the streets clean and safe. In the meantime. And it’s that in the meantime point, that is very hard for people to kind of get their heads around.

S1: It sounds like L.A. is about to have a giant experiment in like what you do about Homelessness.

S2: Yeah, I mean, it’s sometimes hard to tell with these council votes and and ordinances how much of it is rhetorical and how much of it like changes the sort of status of what the streets look like. Because a lot of it is rhetorical. It’s arguing about how the approach should be and is it different in significantly in different places? We do have these really salient examples from over the last year of funding outreach operations that are paired with an enforcement eventually of rules, and they have been successful. But again, how do you scale that up in a city where there’s not enough housing, not enough shelter and not enough of any of the things that the people who are on the streets need? That that’s the kind of million dollar question.

S1: Ben Oreskes, thank you so much for joining me.

S2: Thanks for having me.

S1: Ben Oreskes is a metro reporter for the L.A. Times. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Carmel Delshad Mary Wilson, Davis Land, Elaina Schwartz and Danielle Hewitt. We are led by Alison Benedict. Emily Schmidt Summary. I’m Mary Harris. Thanks for listening. I’ll catch you back here tomorrow.

Source : https://slate.com/transcripts/djRqSUJhVHQ3US9KVHVIeG5jL3NBcXAxUkg1bGROdnRwNklWOVRaNWFVWT0=

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