L.A. Now

Helpful hacks to get around a ban on homeless people living in their cars

Cities that pass anti-homeless laws ignore that government's own inhumanity drives people to the streets

One of the more unattractive legislative impulses is the attempt to criminalize poverty.

With rules such as those against sleeping outdoors and panhandling, or beautification ordinances that force homeowners to absorb costs they can't afford or escalating fines against people who didn't pay their tickets initially because they didn't have the money – so how are they going to pay even more? – municipalities target the underclass while doing little to address the root causes of their poverty. This is cruel governance that only further alienates citizens from their elected representatives.

The Los Angeles City Council is considering reinstating a prohibition on people who live in their parked cars and RVs. You'd think the city would have learned its lesson last year, when a federal appeals court struck down the previous ban as unconstitutionally vague, with one judge writing that it criminalized innocent behavior.

City Atty. Mike Feuer had it right when he said at the time: "We need to make a break from the past … and commit ourselves to grappling with the issues that create homelessness in the first place."

Like the lack of jobs. High housing prices propelled ever higher by speculation. The absence of affordable mental healthcare.

Yet Feuer is now drafting a new rule that might pass constitutional muster by allowing car camping in nonresidential neighborhoods.

I sympathize with renters and homeowners in neighborhoods with large numbers of people living in their vehicles. As The Times' Gale Holland reports, residents of Venice, for example, "had complained that people living in vehicles throw garbage, have fights and relieve themselves on their lawns." That is so totally not fun or cool.

Unfortunately, there are only two ways to address this problem: solving it or sweeping it under the rug.

I worry that moving these unsightly vehicles and their impoverished residents to remote industrial districts out of sight and out of mind of most Angelenos will diminish the pressure on political leaders to do something about the root causes of homelessness.

That's what has happened in other cities. During the 1990s, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ordered the police to move homeless people out of Manhattan into the less densely populated outer boroughs, where tourists rarely if ever go. During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, the city even sent some homeless overseas.       

It's easy to see why residents who find a homeless person using their garden as a toilet tend to focus on those specific individuals, but the fact is people resort to such behavior because of a lack of basic humanity on the part of government.

Homelessness and poverty are endemic, inherent byproducts of a system that has one of the flimsiest social safety nets in the industrialized world, coupled with inadequate regulation of the economy, which allows the worst excesses of capitalism, such as rampant speculation and soaring income inequality.

Anyway, whether you're homeless or not, shouldn’t there be public toilets all over town? After all, everyone has to go — but not everyone can afford to pay for Airpnp.

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