Regional news

Homelessness remains a key issue in West L.A.

City Council 5th District candidates disagree on best way to address a top issue.

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Lidia Garcia has worked as a cashier at the Bargain Fair on Beverly Boulevard for two years. Recently, the store owners were told by the landlord that the building will be torn down for redevelopment, forcing them to look for another place.

“It’s because of the same thing, the homelessness, it’s just really bad,” Garcia said. Many people, including the landlord of the building, believe gentrification is a solution towards solving homelessness.

Garcia said some unhoused people started a fire in the alley next to their store twice. One of the fires threatened Bargain Fair, and she was not sure if the building would survive.

“It hurt our business because they burnt down the cables, so we had no internet and power for about two weeks,” Garcia said.

Garcia isn’t alone. Many small businesses along Beverly Boulevard in the Beverly Grove district fear their businesses are being hurt by the growing population of unhoused people. Homelessness has been a perennial concern in Los Angeles, and is now exploding as an issue in the city’s fall political campaigns.

The Beverly Grove district’s current Los Angeles City Council member, Paul Koretz, gave up the post to run for city controller and will be replaced by either Sam Yebri or Katy Young Yaroslavsky in the Nov. 8 election.

Both Yebri and Young Yaroslavsky have described homelessness as a major issue and have committed to making it a top priority. Both have highlighted on their websites the recently expanded Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 41.18––which prohibits anyone from lying, sleeping or putting personal property in certain public areas.

Yet while both candidates have supported Section 41.18 in multiple debates, they differ on how it should be used. Yebri supports the ordinance as a way to reduce encampments in the city, while Young Yaroslavsky sees it as a “backstop strategy” that prevents encampments but does not solve homelessness on its own.

Yebri, a civil attorney, community non-profit leader and small business owner, has advocated for the use of the ordinance as a way to reduce encampments near public areas, like schools, daycare centers and libraries.

In a campaign video, Yebri said this ordinance “creates urgency to tackle our homelessness crisis by requiring the city to flood these sensitive areas with services.”

Young Yaroslavsky, who has worked as an environmental attorney for the Climate Action Reserve and was an adviser to L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, supports the use of Section 41.18 but for those who refuse to accept the housing, which is a small part of the unhoused population. Young Yaroslavsky says on her website that the ordinance “doesn’t, on its own, actually solve homelessness. It simply tells people where they CAN’T sleep.”

“41.18 can only be used if it’s paired with housing and services,” Young Yaroslavsky said during a recent debate. “It can be a useful tool as a backstop once we offer people housing and services that work for them. Otherwise, we are just moving people from one street corner to the next.”

What does L.A. Municipal Code Section 41.18 entail?

While the ordinance prohibits people experiencing homelessness from living in the streets, it does not state any provisions for shelter or housing.

“Displacing people without providing a good alternative is effectively criminalizing being homeless,” said Chelsea Shover, an epidemiology professor at UCLA.

Shover said that constant displacement makes the situation of unhoused people much worse and makes them vulnerable to sickness. “The population of people experiencing homelessness has a much higher rate of comorbidities,” Shover said.

Shover and her colleague, Kathryn Leifheit, mapped all the public spaces that are restricted by Section 41.18 to see the effect of the law on COVID vaccination camps for people experiencing homelessness. She noted that the law resulted in an immediate removal of encampments in Downtown L.A., only for them to come back again a few days later.

“An encampment gets swept and it moves a little way away, and then it comes back and it gets swept again. It is just shuffling people around,” she said.

The biggest issue is the lack of available housing for people experiencing homelessness.

During their last debate, on Tuesday, both Yebri and Young Yaroslavsky were questioned about where they would construct temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness. Yebri said his team has identified 75 empty sites that could be used for safe camping and building temporary shelters, but many of these have been rejected as suitable spots by the city.

“We have to fight the bureaucracy that is getting in the way of providing temporary shelter,” Yebri said. He also stated that he would enforce Section 41.18 near schools, parks and libraries and move the people there into shelters.

Young Yaroslavsky said the city needs an all-of-the-above approach to solve homelessness and should use federal funding to buy motels and other underused buildings, and use old hospitals and tiny homes to provide housing.

She also said that Yebri “overemphasizes” the usefulness of Section 41.18.

“The biggest reason why it is has limited utility is because we simply don’t have the beds right now for people to go into at the quantity that the council members want to use 41.18,” Young Yaroslavsky said. She supported the use of the ordinance once the city had enough housing for all the unhoused people in the city.

Small business owners hope for change during November elections

Since 2018, the population of people experiencing homelessness in the City Council 5th District has increased by more than 30%. Pam Sunderland, who has been running FastFrame on Beverly Boulevard for 25 years, says she has seen tents everywhere recently.

“It doesn’t look good for the business,” Sunderland said. “We had one person sleeping on the roof recently. We called the landlord because at that point, it is trespassing. But on the sidewalk, it is not trespassing.”

Trespassing is an infraction, which makes it a minor crime. Sunderland says that the police have told her they can make the area around her store a non-encampment zone only if any of the people experiencing homelessness commit a serious or violent crime.

“I am sad for us as business owners, and I am sad for the homeless people,” Sunderland said. “I don’t know where they can go. The city is trying different things but I don’t know if it’s working. And it’s not fast enough.”

Sunderland is looking into what she can do to solve the problem and help her business.

“[The policeman] said to look for the candidates who feel the way you do and then vote that way. And so, that’s what I’ll do,” she said.