Angered by four arrests of homeless people in West Hollywood Park in the last two weeks, several of West Hollywood's homeless have accused city officials of reneging on a commitment not to enforce a 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in the city's parks.
"We thought we had a commitment concerning the curfew and instead what we've seen is a concerted campaign of harassment and abuse," said Sam Weinstein, one of 15 homeless people who took part in a silent protest before the City Council on Monday.
Armed with signs bearing slogans such as "Stop Arresting the Homeless" and "Open the Parks," protesters stood quietly inside the West Hollywood Park Auditorium for more than two hours during the council meeting as half a dozen law enforcement officers looked on.
Besides the four who were arrested in the park, three others were given citations for being in the park after closing hours, Capt. Mark Squiers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said. The incidents occurred on consecutive nights two weeks ago, he added.
Squiers said the arrests and citations should not have surprised the estimated 100 homeless people who live in West Hollywood and Plummer parks, since deputies "had been going through (the parks) and warning everybody that enforcement action would in fact be taken for at least two weeks in advance" of the arrests.
However, the arrests appeared to upset some council members and others at City Hall.
Last week, City Manager Paul Brotzman requested that the Sheriff's Department waive enforcement of the curfew at least temporarily while the city continues its efforts to establish a $1-million-plus comprehensive center for the homeless.
"I think there is a realization that some of these people literally have nowhere else to go," Brotzman said.
And, during Monday's meeting, newly elected Councilman Paul Koretz questioned whether the city should even have a park closure ordinance.
"The City Council is not for harassment of the homeless. We're not for having members of the homeless community forced out of our city. . . . We now have a problem because we passed (the park closure ordinance) and we haven't been enforcing it. We shouldn't be giving a mixed message."
Debated for Months
City officials have debated for months what to do about the homeless who live in the parks.
The issue took on added urgency last December after Squiers, citing a 46% increase in serious crimes in the parks since mid-1987, recommended that the parks be closed from midnight to 6 a.m.
But the council has been hesitant to further restrict the hours, given the large number of homeless people who inhabit the parks. The council has expressed little enthusiasm for enforcing even the current 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. closing hours until a planned comprehensive center for the homeless can be opened in several months.
The city is negotiating a lease for a warehouse on La Brea Avenue that could be used as a long-term, multipurpose center for the homeless and would include an emergency shelter, a drop-in center, a food program and counseling services.
Homeless inhabitants of the parks have complained for months of being threatened and harassed by sheriff's deputies, claiming that they have often been subjected to body searches and told to leave the parks, even during daytime hours.
Weinstein criticized what he called "the recent mistreatment" as inconsistent with the city's plans to open a permanent facility for the homeless.
"The (plan for the center) is a compassionate move, but in the meantime we've got to survive," he said. "We're not criminals, we're not dope dealers, we're just people who are down and out."