In the wake of nationwide protests calling for police reform following the death of George Floyd, cities and agencies across the country are re-examining their relationships and reliance upon law enforcement.
LAHSA supervisor Kirsty Lovich circulated a petition within the agency arguing that associations with the police “undermine” the organization and its commitments, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“If this organization continues to operate 'business as usual' regarding embedding law enforcement officers within outreach programming, it has failed to embody and activate the commitments it has just 72 hours ago declared and it undermines the brilliant and necessary work it has undertaken to address structural racism over these last few years,” the petition reads under a section titled “We can do better.”
The petition centered on an anecdote between agency worker Anne Braden and a homeless black woman named Harriet. The main thrust of the argument against the police developed from Harriet’s concern that she was “not viable” due to how police treated her.
“Instead of creating these horrifying outcomes, we were able to connect and mutually affirm that her life is indeed viable, that her life absolutely matters,” Braden wrote. “I absolutely would not have been able to make this kind of connection with police officers at my side.”
Braden notes in her essay that black people make up 40 percent of Los Angeles’ homeless population while accounting for only 9 percent of the city’s population.
Having circulated the petition around the agency, Lovich immediately drew backlash from her some of her coworkers.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, Victor Hinderliter, the LAHSA’s associate director of access and engagement, told Lovich that her the email was “inappropriate,” and that some of the staff felt the petition erased their experiences by “implication that meaningful connections and relationships cannot be achieved by our teams who work with law enforcement.”
Heidi Marston, LAHSA’s executive director, told the Los Angeles Times that the agency does not fund or contract law enforcement, but agency employees do sometimes work alongside officers.
“We want our partnerships with those entities to be positive and to be able to reflect the values that LAHSA upholds in how we treat individuals who are unsheltered,” Marston said, adding that “we have consistently said we want to see law enforcement as a last resort.”
Unnamed LAHSA employees expressed both support and concern over the petition. One employee told the Times that he was hurt by the petition, while another explained that many of her coworkers see the roles of LAHSA and the police as inherently overlapping.
Marston reached out to Lovich after the petition began to circulate, telling Lovich that she appreciated the passion, but wanted “to clarify the appropriate communication channels for these discussions," the report said.
Marston later said that she wants staff to have a voice, but it needs to happen in a way that is “safe for everybody who’s involved.”