Los Angeles City Council approves measure to ban homeless encampments near schools

The ordinance amends a Los Angeles law regulating where homeless encampments can be

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The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday prohibiting homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and day care centers.

The measure was passed by an 11 to 3 vote, with Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Nithya Raman and Marqueece Harris-Dawson dissenting.

The ordinance amends a city law regulating where homeless encampments can be. Municipal Code 41.18 bans sitting, sleeping, lying or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in multiple areas.

The council voted 10 to 1 in favor of the ordinance last month, with Bonin as the lone dissenter. However, a second vote had to be conducted on Tuesday for the measure to pass because the initial vote was not unanimous.

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People at a homeless encampment in Toriumi Plaza at 1st St and Judge John Aiso St in Los Angeles.

People at a homeless encampment in Toriumi Plaza at 1st St and Judge John Aiso St in Los Angeles. ((Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images))

In addition to banning encampments near schools and daycares, the ordinance expands Municipal Code 41.18 to include anywhere within 2 feet of a fire hydrant or fire plug, within 5 feet of any operational or utilizable entrance or exit, within 10 feet of a loading dock or driveway or bike paths or other areas within a street.

It also imposes bans regarding manners that interfere with activities the city has issued a permit for or anything that restricts accessible passage as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The existing law already protects the public right of way within 500 feet of "sensitive" facilities, which includes schools, daycare centers, parks and libraries - although this part of the law only applies if each specific location is designated for enforcement by the council.

The amendment was previously approved by the council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

Supporters of the ordinance say it keeps children safe. Councilman Mitch O'Farrell also argued at the council meeting that it is inaccurate to claim the homeless have nowhere else to go. He said the city has several successful and robust programs to help the homeless.

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A homeless woman wearing a veil stands near a tent pitched by Echo Park Lake.

A homeless woman wearing a veil stands near a tent pitched by Echo Park Lake. (REUTERS/David Swanson)

"I'm going to stand up for this council," O'Farrell said. "Everyone here is compassionate, deeply caring of people who are the most vulnerable among us. I'm not going to buy into this rhetoric that we're monsters, that we're murderers or anything like that. It's all nonsense. I'm just not going to accept that false narrative any longer. We should never accept it at all."

But Bonin contested that the ordinance is based on a false premise that homeless people are refusing to go indoors and that the city has enough space for them. He claimed that 60% of people living on the streets of Los Angeles cannot find shelter.

"This is not a question of whether or not you approve of having encampments near schools," Bonin said. "Nobody wants encampments near schools or daycares. Nobody wants encampments anywhere."

He said the ordinance was a "distraction from where our focus needs to be," such as making moves to end homelessness.

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A jogger walks past a homeless encampment in Los Angeles, California.

A jogger walks past a homeless encampment in Los Angeles, California. (AP)

The measure was approved after Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said earlier this year that teachers, principals and parents have complained about homeless encampments near schools.

"I've seen elementary schools with conditions that none of us as parents would find acceptable for children. Individuals with mental illness, some of them absolutely unclothed, shouting profanities in the listening ear of children," Carvalho told the council at the time.

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Those who violate the ordinance face an infraction or citation. But a person who "willfully resists, delays or obstructs a city employee from enforcing this section or who willfully refuses to comply after being requested to do so by an authorized city employee" can face increased fines and a misdemeanor charge.