Where could homeless people sleep under L.A. plan? Activists take to streets to check

A woman awakened by L.A. police officers on a sidewalk in Venice picks up her belongings.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

When Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell laid out a proposal that would bar people from sleeping on streets and sidewalks near schools, parks and other targeted facilities, local activists lined up at a City Hall hearing to denounce the idea and showed up at O’Farrell’s home in Glassell Park to protest.

Now they have taken to the streets again — this time with pens and maps.

Homeless advocates and activist groups, including the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and members of the Services Not Sweeps Coalition, launched a joint effort to walk the streets and assess where homeless people could be barred from sleeping if the proposal passed.


Their analysis, which looks at a patch of Echo Park stretching half a mile in radius around an O’Farrell district office, marks banned areas around parks, schools and day-care centers. Under the proposal, people would be prohibited from sleeping on streets and sidewalks within 500 feet of those and other targeted locations.

The map also illustrates existing restrictions on sleeping near driveways and doorways, which would be renewed under the new proposal. That goes a step beyond a recent Times analysis of the plan, which did not include the doorway restrictions because they could not be mapped citywide with readily available data.

Homeless activists had argued that enforcing those rules would dramatically reduce the areas where people could legally sleep under the proposal. The Times analysis calculated at least 26% of the city would be off-limits for sidewalk sleeping under key elements of the proposal; parks, which are generally supposed to be closed at night, cover an additional 15% of L.A.

Services Not Sweeps and its partners did not quantify how much of Echo Park could be off-limits, but their analysis shows significant stretches of streets such as Sunset Boulevard being off-limits for sidewalk sleeping, even in areas far from the facilities targeted under the proposal.

“It’s absolutely unworkable,” said Jed Parriott, a member of the Services Not Sweeps coalition who walked Echo Park for the analysis. In a summary, the groups wrote that the plan “would all but banish unhoused people from the city.”

The new analysis did not account for some areas that would be banned under the proposal, including bridges and tunnels designated as school routes or sidewalks that are too narrow for people to pass.

O’Farrell spokesman Tony Arranaga said Monday that their office was reviewing the information and that the councilman wanted to hear from his colleagues on the proposal when it came before council. City officials have yet to publicly release their own assessment of the potential reach of the plan.

“This is not an end product, just lawful options that the city attorney provided to update the ordinance,” Arranaga said.

The proposed rules would replace a blanket ban on sidewalk sleeping that Los Angeles has agreed to hold back on enforcing at night. Under the Jones vs. City of Los Angeles settlement, L.A. agreed that until more homeless housing was built, it would let people sleep on sidewalks from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. if they stayed far enough from doorways and driveways.

The new proposal specifies that no one can sleep on sidewalks “in a manner that restricts 10 feet of clearance from any utilizable and operational entrance, exit, driveway or loading dock” — a rule that echoes nighttime restrictions in the Jones settlement. Activists have said they are worried about the net effect of the new and existing rules and more aggressive enforcement of any newly passed restrictions.

Backers of the new proposal, including City Atty. Mike Feuer and Councilman Joe Buscaino, argue that the rules would allow homeless people to sleep legally in some areas while balancing the need to protect sensitive locations such as schools.

Neighborhood activists have complained that encampments have blocked sidewalks and generated filth and chaos. Some argue that the new proposal, which would allow sidewalk sleeping in some areas day or night, is too permissive.

But the plan has also generated skepticism and outright opposition among some city leaders. Councilman Mike Bonin said the move would fly in the face of court decisions protecting the rights of homeless people and argued that L.A. should instead focus on getting people into housing.

O’Farrell and two other councilmen on a council committee decided in August to forward the proposal to the full council, but those two officials have since said that they cannot support the plan as currently written. The proposed rules have yet to be approved by the council or drafted by city lawyers. No date has been set for a council hearing on the plan.