Opinion

Can't help the homeless? City Council endorses harassing them

Neither liberals nor conservatives address poverty's root causes, so we resort to criminalizing homelessness

The L.A. City Council has given preliminary approval to two measures that make it easier for the police to roust homeless people from encampments that have drawn negative attention from the public in recent months. The ordinances — one governs parks, the other covers sidewalks — reduce the notice the homeless have to remove their possessions to 24 hours from 72. They also allow authorities to remove large objects, such as couches, without any notice whatsoever.

“It looks like, once again, the city is going to put enforcement way ahead of services," civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, who is negotiating with the city over the possessions injunction, told The Times.

That's certainly true.

What's also true is that this is another move to criminalize poverty.

The latest crackdown follows new encampments that appeared in the wake of the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles. Residents of previously quiet neighborhoods suddenly found themselves dealing with litter, people suffering from mental illness and those relieving themselves in public. If you don't think that's a serious problem, you obviously don't live in close proximity to one of these new ad hoc communities.

Unfortunately, neither of the two main factions in American and local politics, liberals and conservatives, seem willing or able to address the problem of homelessness in an intelligent way.

Liberals tend to shrug their shoulders and, if they can afford it, move to more expensive areas where they won't be troubled by human eyesores. The nicer ones donate to well-meaning charities, and a few even volunteer to ladle out soup at homeless shelters. But no one seriously thinks that's going to put a serious dent in, much less end, public poverty.

Conservatives have even less to offer. They can't admit that poverty isn't a bug in the capitalist system. It's a core feature. As we have seen over the last 200 years, the older the system gets, the more we see the concentration of wealth in a shrinking, ever richer elite. Globalization has accelerated the widening of the gap between rich and poor.

As long as we have free-market capitalism with a minimum of government regulation over business, as we have in the United States, we will have poor people. Some of them won't be able to afford housing and end up living on the street, and possibly peeing in front of your house. (Business owners, don't write me complaining about excessive paperwork and that you’re buried in regulations. Stupid bureaucracy isn't the same thing as actual control over your business.)

What's the solution? I can tell you what the solution is not: harassing homeless people and telling them to move on, constantly, even though they have nowhere to go. That's just mean.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
78°