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Enforce Law on Skid Row Streets

Police action against sleeping in public aids businesses and all the residents of downtown. But funding for shelters is equally important.

February 28, 2003|Jan Perry

Here we go again: The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for enforcing the law. The law in question, 41.18 (d), prohibits sitting, lying or sleeping on city sidewalks or in alleys.

For many years, there have been people camping in tents and obstructing the sidewalks in downtown Los Angeles. This is happening even though the city and county are offering more services, rehabilitation and housing for the homeless -- concentrated downtown -- than anywhere else in Southern California.

Despite this, street culture here has grown and thrived. Who are these people living on the sidewalk?

Many are people who would have been in mental institutions a generation ago. Or they would be in jails now if those facilities were not already overcrowded.

Most of them, because of habitual drug use, are unable to pull their lives together to sustain any kind of stable living situation. The behavior found in these encampments is both self-destructive and harmful to the community.

By allowing this Third World standard to continue, the city is saying yes to unhealthful, degrading living conditions that encourage drug and alcohol abuse. This "city of the homeless" daily exposes people to high levels of tuberculosis, scabies, HIV-tainted needles and potentially infectious skin and lung ailments.

To imply that actions taken to address this situation have to do with the lack of affordable real estate and urban renewal, as the ACLU and other critics assert, is dishonest and self-serving.

In the last 10 years, the city of Los Angeles has dedicated more than $40 million in public funds to improve the skid row area, mostly to help the homeless.

More than 3,000 units of subsidized affordable, rehabilitated housing for extremely low-income people have been developed.

I will continue to vigorously support this type of housing in my district. The question is, will the leaders throughout the Los Angeles region do the same? Will they bring these services to their districts so the homeless can be rehabilitated near their families and in their neighborhoods?

It's expensive to support people in permanent, subsidized housing. But long-term, it would cost more to treat them in emergency rooms, emergency shelters and transitional housing with social services.

To solve our more immediate problems, I have asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to increase the county's contribution to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to at least $9 million, the level needed to maintain emergency homeless shelter services throughout the county year-round.

This is a small first step. The city and county must also make homelessness prevention a top priority. The local match for homeless services must be increased, and a funding plan that includes one-third each from local, state and federal entities must be established to create an adequate level of permanent affordable housing in this region.

The ACLU may be well intentioned but it fails to acknowledge that the people who live, work or own businesses in downtown Los Angeles, including the residents of skid row, are entitled to safe and healthy neighborhoods.

*

Jan Perry represents the L.A. City Council's 9th District, which includes much of downtown Los Angeles.

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