In the weeks since the Los Angeles City Council near-unanimously passed a draconian amendment to 41.18 — which restricts areas where people can sit, lie, and sleep — the City has kept the details of their plan to enforce the ordinance close to their chest.
City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas has been touting his Street Engagement Strategy to the press and on social media, arguing that it is a first-of-its-kind legislative success. The City Administrative Officer (CAO) approved $4.2 million in additional funding for Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority for this project, and claimed in their report back that the key to this strategy would be “strong coordination” with service providers. In practice, however, the City has largely left LAHSA in the dark.
LAHSA — which, unlike private nonprofits like Urban Alchemy, actually has the ability to place people in housing — has historically borne the brunt of the blame for the City’s inability to properly deal with the homelessness crisis. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell has in the past scapegoated LAHSA for his office’s failed homelessness policies, and asked specifically for them to not be involved in outreach for the disastrous Echo Park Lake encampment removal. Councilmember Joe Buscaino has called for the city’s complete withdrawal from LAHSA.
In the rush to implement the 41.18 amendment, City Council and the city attorney are once again leaving LAHSA out of the equation.
Knock LA obtained a video of an internal LAHSA meeting, where staff expressed concerns with the lack of clarity surrounding the new amendment’s enforcement plan. “[These new guidelines] make it very difficult for people who are unsheltered to understand where they can sit, lie, and sleep,” a LAHSA employee said.
According to LAHSA, City Council has already selected 15 “sensitive use” sites — one per council district — for the initial pilot program. The strategy will focus its enforcement on encampments with 15–20 people, or 10 or more structures (including tents). The CAO’s report also suggests a focus on encampments of over 30 people, and encampments that are a “public health or safety hazard.”
The selected sites will be given notice of their closure 14 days in advance, and LAHSA must have someone present on the final day of the notice to offer shelter to anyone who remains at the encampment.
LAHSA is uncertain if they’ll be expected to engage with all 15 sites at the same time, or how any of these sites will be prioritized. They also say they’ve been kept in the dark on how these sites will be maintained after closure, and who will be responsible for making sure resources are actually being offered to the encampments’ residents prior to their eviction.
“There are still a lot of things we don’t know in terms of what this will look like,” said the LAHSA employee leading the meeting.
Another employee on the call asked about enforcement, and specifically what would happen if an encampment resident refused to leave on the last day. “That is one of my big concerns about the 41.18 change,” the LAHSA employee leading the meeting said, “[that] application will vary from council district to council district … what is likely to happen is that if someone refuses to leave a site that is slated for closure, the options that the city has are to not close that site, or to cite and potentially arrest someone that refuses to leave.”
LAHSA has also not been told if additional sensitive use sites will continue to be added by individual council districts — as Councilmember Buscaino has been attempting to do. Buscaino released a list, over 20 pages long, of locations he wanted listed as sensitive use.
During their internal meeting, LAHSA employees expressed concern that meeting the demands of Buscaino’s plan would require pulling resources away from regular outreach.
“This is a recommendation that at least 13 of our engagement teams will be engaged in this, or upwards of 17 teams,” the employee leading the meeting said. Those teams would have to be pulled out of “current, proactive outreach.”
The lack of housing resources was also cited as a reason for worry. “We’re seeing longer waiting lists for clients waiting to be matched. I can foresee us still having a housing resource shortage,” the leading LAHSA employee said. Another employee asked about what happens to clients in these encampments who aren’t matched with housing — which went unanswered.
The LAHSA employee also said that they’d like the city attorney to expand their definition of what constitutes an “appropriate” housing offer. The first page of the CAO report on the Street Engagement Strategy states that a “suitable” offer of shelter should be determined by LAHSA and outreach providers, and follow their ideas for “best practices.” Section 3 of LAHSA’s best practices lists, in detail, what various offers of appropriate housing should be, and takes into account the different needs of different unhoused folks.
Under the city attorney’s current definition, appropriate housing only needs to meet two standards: ADA compliance and conforming to the client’s gender identity. LAHSA says that the city attorney has told them that this definition is sufficient in keeping the City from getting sued for being in violation of the Martin v. Boise decision, which prohibits criminal enforcement on unhoused folks in encampments when they do not have access to shelter. LAHSA says that appropriate housing should also take into account a client’s mental health needs, provide substance abuse services, and cater to those who are unable to be in congregate shelters. At the time of the meeting, the city attorney had not responded to LAHSA’s suggestions.
One LAHSA employee on the call pointed out that clients prefer Project Roomkey sites to congregate shelters. However, the leading employee said that while contracts with Project Roomkey sites — including the Mayfair, Grand, and Airtel — have been extended, the City has made it clear that they will not be opening any new Project Roomkey sites.
“We want to see all outreach efforts in LA County incorporate best practices, which includes leading with compassion and providing access to safe, permanent housing options,” said Ahmad Chapman, LAHSA’s Director of Communications. LAHSA’s Best Practices site makes it clear that any strategy with dealing with encampments is only as strong as the housing resources behind it.