On January 25, 2016, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles sent a scathingly forthright letter to the LA City Council arguing that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, on whose commission Kerry Morrison serves, falsely stated in its 2015 Continuum of Care application for more than $110 million in federal funding for homeless programs that the City of LA was going to stop criminalizing homelessness by amending its abhorrent, unconstitutional LAMC 56.11 to eliminate criminal penalties for the storage of personal property on sidewalks. This copy was distributed by HPOA Executive Director Kerry Morrison to the Central Hollywood Coalition Board of Directors at their February 9, 2016 meeting. It has annotations inscribed by an unknown hand (probably Kerry Morrison’s). They are fascinating, and we discuss them below.
If you’ve been following the amendments to the ordinance as originally adopted (most importantly here and also here) LAFLA’s allegations will come as no surprise to you. The City of Los Angeles, it seems, is completely unwilling to stop arresting homeless people, even if it puts hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding at risk.
Now, we’re not as sure as LAFLA is that LAHSA actually lied. Here’s what HUD asked (see p.10 of the application for context):
Select the specific strategies implemented by the CoC to ensure that homelessness is not criminalized in the CoC’s geographic area. Select all that apply. For “Other,” you must provide a description…
Here’s how LAHSA responded:
on Nov 17, 2015, the LA City Council amended the ordinance [LAMC 56.11] to remove sanctions and criminal penalties, reducing sanctions further than the initial municipal code.
And here’s what LAFLA said with respect to this:
…the implication was that any amendment would remove all criminal penalties and sanctions. The amendments as proposed by the City Attorney do [no] such thing.
So LAFLA reads an implicit “all” before the word “sanctions,” which would make LAHSA’s statement false on its face. However, it’s also possible to read an implicit “some” before the word “sanctions,” which would make the statement true, but deeply deceptive since “all” is a more natural assumption regarding the tacit quantifier. Either way LAHSA not only looks bad, but is putting the money, not to mention their credibility, at risk. After all, if the feds think you’ve lied to them, they are exceedingly unlikely to be convinced by your slippery, clever, alternate reading of what you said.
Also, isn’t it interesting that putative changes in LAMC 56.11 were the only example LAHSA gave of the City’s steps towards decriminalizing homelessness. They didn’t touch the also abhorrent LAMC 41.18(d), which forbids sitting on the sidewalk in the absence of a parade. They didn’t even mention it, which is also deceptive. This is the BIDs’ favorite anti-homeless law, and it’s enforced in an openly selective manner against homeless people. At some point HUD is going to notice this, and, as we have predicted before and predict again now, this will be the rock that the BIDs’ ship founders on. The City won’t be able to do without the money, the BIDs won’t be able to do without the law, but the City will be able to do without the BIDs in their present form.
Read on for a discussion of the anonymous marginalia found on our copy of this letter.
It’s hard to draw hard conclusions about this one. We think maybe the box around “primary response” indicates some skepticism about the primacy of criminalization. This is pretty rich coming from the Central Hollywood Coalition, whose BID Patrol is in some ways even more than the LAPD an instrument of the criminalization of homelessness, and is a serious, mostly ignored, problem that the City will have to solve once they realize that HUD is dead serious about tying funding for programs that deal with homelessness to its decriminalization.
We’ll venture a guess here that the first underlined passage is so marked to indicate either some skepticism that this scenario is allowed by the amended LAMC 56.11 or else (shudder!) an indication that this loophole hadn’t occurred to the annotator and that she should remember to memorialize it to the BID Patrol so they don’t have to stop stealing homeless people’s stuff when and if these amendments are implemented.
The second annotation is by far the most interesting, and reveals the intermixing of two strains of elite instrumental paranoia: the always imminent takeover of the world (and the subsequent collapse of property values) by ragged human detritus and TERRORISM! LAFLA is concerned that the amended 56.11 gives LAPD (and by unmentioned extension the BID Patrol) a huge, huge loophole, allowing them, without due process or oversight, the ability to confiscate property immediately if they deem it evidence or contraband. Of course, in reality, in practice, on the street, in within a rounding error of one hundred percent of actual cases, this loophole will function as a loophole. It must be intended that way. But this unknown annotator sees only a BOMB! Now, it seems unlikely that sane people think that the actual reason that we must continue to allow the LAPD and the BID Patrol the right to confiscate all the worldy goods of the homeless is because otherwise we’d have a lot more bombs on the street. This is not simple, honest paranoia at work, it’s instrumental paranoia. It serves a larger purpose. It’s a talking point, nothing more, and serves only to convince.
This one just says it all. They’re not compelled to sleep in tents, they choose to. Just for a minute, pretend the zillionaire palefaced elite are right and there are actually hordes of people choosing to sleep on the streets when they could be, oh, we don’t know, sleeping on mom’s couch or something. How are we going to sort out who’s who? More bureaucracy, more interrogations, to discern the “genuinely needy”? And what about the people who say they’re homeless by choice to cover up the mental illness, the bad luck, even the bad choices, that make them unable to keep their lives organized enough to maintain housing? We’ve met plenty of people like that right here in Hollywood. Do they not deserve help because they’re trying to maintain some pride in the face of devastation? Are you really going to step over one bleeding, suffering, person who you somehow judge to have chosen to be there in order to help another one who you think is deserving? It’s not plausible. There’s just no percentage in trying to sort out who’s deserving and who’s not among the suffering. Help those who need help. None of us deserve it, so all of us deserve it. Jesus said so.
LAFLA logo used here under a theory of fair use. Image of Le Bon Samaritain is by James Tissot, is out of copyright, and is available here.