Editorial:  A welcome new approach to skid row

Homeless people prepare their tents and tarps for shelter on Winston Street near San Pedro Street in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

The homeless who live on the streets of Los Angeles carry a lot of baggage: shopping carts, tents, medications, personal identification. And sometimes they must leave those belongings behind while they go get a hot meal, use a restroom, appear in court or do a few hours of paid work.

In 2011, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction forbidding police and city workers from seizing and destroying belongings that the homeless left unattended on skid row. The city repeatedly appealed that order, and after three years of failed attempts, it ran out of courts. So it asked the judge who issued the injunction to modify it. That failed too. Finally, last week, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced that his office would not file another appeal.

That’s smart. Even smarter would be to finally settle the lawsuit brought by eight homeless people that triggered the injunction in the first place. Their belongings had been taken by police and city Bureau of Street Services workers and destroyed.

However, despite the continuing lawsuit, the city is prepared to propose a plan that constructively helps the homeless cope with their belongings instead of seizing them.


The proposal, from Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, calls for the installation of more storage units that homeless people can use. There are storage lockers for belongings at a facility downtown, but homeless advocates say there aren’t enough and there is a waiting list for them. The proposal also calls for designating one downtown parking lot as a place where shopping carts could be securely parked for the day. And it recommends more public toilets downtown — something county health officials have suggested — and more trash cans. Feuer says he supports these steps.

The city has to perform a balancing act between protecting homeless people’s constitutional right to their property and protecting public health. It makes sense that the city seizes items that are so filthy or vermin-infested that they present a health hazard. It also removes unattended belongings before much-needed street cleanings. Such seizures are reasonable as long as the city posts notices alerting the homeless to the date of the cleaning. In those cases, the city stores the belongings it picks up and posts signs indicating where they can be retrieved.

It’s encouraging to see city officials turning their attention to helping the homeless get their belongings off the sidewalks themselves instead of arguing for the city’s right to do it.