May 2008 – Housing, Homelessness, And The Butt End Of The City Budget

By Peggy Lee Kennedy

If you follow the news you know that the Mayor came out strongly in favor of “Public Safety,” in the city’s 2008-09 budget, which includes increasing the LAPD by 1,000 police and decreasing other needed services.

Unfortunately, nested within this Public Safety budget is a police budget of over $1.3 billion (around one third of the City’s total budget) that is using so-called scarce city recourses to criminalize poor and homeless people – resources that could be used for real solutions to homelessness and affordable housing. This involves something called Quality of Life Policing; a policy that evolved partially out of a right-wing theory of zero tolerance policing called “Broken Windows” (Atlantic Monthly 1982, by James Q Wilson and George Kelling). It was made popular in New York in the 1990s by William Bratton, now Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. This zero tolerance/quality of life policing is a form of proactive law enforcement that focuses on a business-like “bottom line” of reducing crime. The basic theory is if police address smaller offenses of “disorder,” such as panhandling or loitering, then violent crime will diminish. 

In addition, our law-makers are now calling certain laws Quality of Life, such as anti-homeless laws that make it a crime to live in a vehicle or sleep in a park even though these acts may be unavoidable – done through necessity due to poverty, lack of social services, an extreme shortage of affordable housing, or other social-economic reasons. These Quality of Life laws are specifically used to remove poor people, youth of color, or homeless people (people viewed as inferior) from a neighborhood. Other Quality of Life anti-homeless laws include making oversized camper vehicles illegal to park on city streets between 2-6AM, Overnight [Permit] Parking Districts, and a law that says no vehicles should be parking on a city street for more 72-hours is mostly used to target the poorest people. One example of an anti-poor Quality of Life law is the law that makes it a crime to live in a converted garage.

Quality of Life Policing and Quality of Life Laws are especially popular in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification – like Venice, downtown Los Angeles, or Echo Park. This form of policing and law making or law application distinctively does not protect or serve the people who most need to have a better quality of life. They do the opposite and should be re-named Inequality of Life. 

[Ine]Quality of Life Policing uses considerable Police resources dedicated to giving tickets to people who cannot pay the fines, who cannot make it to court, or who have done no other crime except to be poor and living homeless. 

Tickets turn into warrants and homeless people get arrested – often in sweeps, which is another elaborate use of police resources and horrible for the people being arrested. The people arrested regularly plead “no contest” instead of “not guilty” to get off with time served, due to lack of legal representation and a lack of knowledge of their rights (National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), 2002), and they end up with a criminal record, probation, and stay-away orders for areas with the only social services – like the Venice Family Clinic and Saint Joseph’s Bread and Roses Café on Rose Ave. in Venice.

It is a fact that ticketing, arresting, and incarcerating homeless people costs more than actually housing people. Our elected officials know this, but do not appear to care. They do nothing to stop the propaganda campaign of fear that justifies these laws (sound familiar?) and even cater to the civilian hate mongers who are calling them over and over. While we, the taxpayers, are all paying for a system that does not work. [Ine]Quality of Life Policing simply does not work to solve homelessness. It very often violates people’s civil rights and can lead to costly litigation. It is helping to erode our Constitution. The “bottom line” is that it is very expensive. 

Also, when a homeless person has a criminal record, it increases the barriers to finding housing and shelter. Section 8 housing applications, including the Section 8 buildings in Venice owned by Coldwater Management, require a credit check and a background check. If a person has a bankruptcy, a prior eviction, or a misdemeanor – they can virtually forget it.

Now where are these people supposed to go when there is no affordable housing or proper shelter system, when these laws are citywide laws and people have been given a criminal record using Inequality of Life Policing? Should they live in jail or just die? As a matter of fact they do. People are dying homeless on our streets more often than we know and increasingly poor people are being housed in jails and prisons while we are paying to build more. It is a vicious cycle of a growing fascist police state that we are funding. Except some of us actually do not want to live in a fascist police state.

OK, I know there are people reading this that do not recognize all the signs that say “No Poor People Allowed” as being part of a fascist state. Maybe we all just need to turn off the TV more, care for each other more, pray more, and find peace within. Maybe the chem trails really are turning us all into robots. I don’t know, but I believe people have to struggle beyond the petty fear and intolerance we are being conditioned with. I wish more of us would try to remember that all human beings deserve the basic rights of healthy food and decent shelter. These basic rights should not just belong to the chosen few. That is why we call it Human Rights and not Rights for the Few who have property, power, and privilege.