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Discrimination Against Homeless Charged : West Hollywood OKs Park Regulations

Times Staff Writer

Often praised for being sensitive to the plight of homeless people, the West Hollywood City Council on Monday was sharply criticized after approving new park regulations that the homeless say discriminate against them.

In a unanimous vote, the five-member council outlawed such things as erecting tents, hanging clothes and blankets on walls and shrubs and using drinking fountains for “other than (their) intended purpose.”

“We know what they’ve done isn’t right, and we’re not gonna give up,” said Henderson (Papa) Hayes, one of about two dozen homeless people who staged a silent demonstration at the council meeting.

The law, which becomes effective as soon as signs can be posted in the next week or two, authorizes city officials and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies to expel violators from the parks.

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City Councilman John Heilman said the new law is needed to “restore balance” to the parks, and is intended “to establish certain minimal standards for all park users.”

However, homeless advocate Sam Weinstein called the ordinance “another example of how the homeless are being kicked around.” He predicted that it would “open the way for stepped-up harassment of the homeless in the parks.”

‘Increase Vulnerability’

“What it’s going to do is increase the vulnerability of a group that’s already too vulnerable to the harassment of sheriff’s deputies,” he said. “What they (the council) have done is ignore the reality of the homeless living in the parks, without providing alternatives.”

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At the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the council decided in June to close the city’s two parks--where an estimated 150 of the homeless were living--from midnight to 6 a.m. Authorities said they closed the parks because of an increase in crime there, often involving homeless people as victims.

But the council won praise from the city’s homeless community when it decided to help by opening the city auditorium as a nightly emergency shelter for as many as 50 people until a city-backed $1.2-million comprehensive center for the homeless is ready to open next year.

The council has championed the permanent shelter despite opposition from a coalition of merchants and residents on the city’s east side, where the center is to be located.

The temporary shelter has operated at capacity almost from the time it opened, with officials turning away as many as 20 people a night.

Added Numbers in Daytime

But in the three months since it opened, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of homeless people using West Hollywood Park during the daytime, including several dozen people who previously spent much of their time in Plummer Park, city officials said.

Some residents and merchants near West Hollywood Park have complained about a proliferation of shopping carts, encampments in grassy areas, the hanging of clothes, kindling of fires and the use of the park’s drinking fountains for bathing and washing dishes.

City officials have said that the situation in West Hollywood Park has caused many families with small children and others to stay away from the park.

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Several council members said Monday that they hope the new regulations will help make the parks more attractive to all segments of the community.

However, Weinstein was not convinced.

“Much of the language (in the ordinance) reads like motherhood and apple pie,” he said. “Who can quibble with making it an infraction to injure or disturb a plant or shrub, as the law does? But we know from experience that it’s these kind of petty things that make it possible for homeless people to be hassled (by the authorities). This will only make it worse.”


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