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Jail for the Homeless

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Daryl Gates have decided that people who live on downtown sidewalks must go to jail. The jailing of people who have no place else to live borders on the criminal.

Homeless people have until Thursday to find lodging or they face arrest for breaking a law that prohibits living on public sidewalks. Police will provide vouchers good for a week at a cheap hotel, but those vouchers will prove worthless when the few available rooms are taken.

The mayor wants to protect the people who live and work downtown. He is right that they should be able to do so free of fear--no one should have to walk a gauntlet--but the police should target the narcotics dealers and other criminals for arrest, not every homeless person.

Emergency shelter and inexpensive permanent housing are almost impossible to find. Finding room in the county’s severely overcrowded jails for hundreds of homeless men and women may prove equally challenging.

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The city attorney, James Hahn, has said, however, that he will not prosecute homeless people on the sidewalk law.

Providing temporary shelter is a county responsibility, but the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has done little more than talk. City officials deserve more credit for their leadership. The mayor promises an additional 1,700 city beds in the pipeline starting this summer, but those promises won’t help anyone when the arrests begin.

Bradley, at least, shows some compassion, unlike Gates, who has, he said, not “one ounce of concern.” He believes that many homeless people have the means to take care of themselves and that the vast majority want to live on the streets to be where the action is. That just isn’t so.

The homeless men and women who live on the streets of Skid Row have lost jobs, houses, apartments, families and, too often futures. They need safe shelter, not jail cells. Mayor Bradley and Chief Gates should call off the arrests.

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