Our Stories

Criminalizing Homelessness is Not the Answer.

September, 2019

In recent days and weeks, the homelessness crisis in California received national attention as the Trump Administration descended upon our state with a promise to “crackdown” on street encampments.

We follow reports on the Administration’s vague plans with concern. It is clear from the language the President and his aides are using that they believe addressing homelessness is best done through policing and criminalization. The President’s statement to reporters on September 17 made it clear that he is interested in addressing homelessness as an issue that bothers affluent residents, as opposed to addressing homelessness as a humanitarian issue for the people actually experiencing it. There is no acknowledgment of the ways in which this Administration is driving more people into poverty and cutting off access to housing, thereby exacerbating homelessness.

Public Counsel represents clients who are experiencing homelessness and at imminent risk of homelessness in Los Angeles every day. With housing costs skyrocketing and wages remaining stagnant, more and more people experiencing homelessness are living in encampments or in their vehicles because they simply cannot afford housing. And when people live in encampments or in their vehicles, they become more vulnerable to police encounters.

Tickets and arrest records are barriers to housing that push people deeper into homelessness. When our clients’ tents are razed and their belongings confiscated and thrown away, they lose prescription medicine, their identification, their green cards, their social security paperwork, and other important documentation. So many of our clients come to us seeking assistance to replace these items because without them, they cannot gain employment, obtain financial assistance, or seek access to housing or shelter.

Experiencing homelessness results in other significant losses as well. For example, homelessness among youth and among adults with children is spiking. Homelessness among this population results in disruption in children’s education and family separation when parents are forced – by circumstance or by child services – to transfer custody of their children to someone else simply because they lack housing.

While we watch the Administration’s movements around homelessness warily, we are troubled about the ways in which our local governments undermine their own efforts to address homelessness. On September 17, as President Trump spoke derisively of the homeless to advance his criminalization agenda, a majority of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to support efforts to overturn a court decision that describes the constitutional limits on what actions local governments can take to arrest or displace people experiencing homelessness when they lack access to shelter beds. At the same time, too many cities in our County are attempting to address homelessness through citations and displacement, damaging the efforts of service providers.

County voters are making an enormous investment in addressing homelessness, and deserve having their elected officials invest in real solutions to homelessness. This means preserving and producing affordable housing, supporting outreach efforts, investing in supportive services, and streamlining access to those services.