Los Angeles is pushing forward with a new law that could displace unhoused people, despite the CDC’s warning that it could lead to more COVID-19 outbreaks

LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) workers observe a sidewalk dwelling as police and sanitation workers clear a homeless encampment in Harbor City, Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 1, 2021.
LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) workers observe a sidewalk dwelling as police and sanitation workers clear a homeless encampment in Harbor City, Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Bing Guan
  • A new LA law barring sitting or sleeping in the public right-of-way took effect on September 3.
  • The law, which was ruled “unconstitutional,” also goes against CDC guidance.
  • The agency warns “Clearing encampments … increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
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Los Angeles is moving ahead with a new law that homelessness advocates say could displace some unhoused people in the city.

The rule that took effect September 3 restricts “sitting, lying, sleeping” or setting up camp in the “public right-of-way.” Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the ordinance in July, Insider previously reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressed the issue of managing groups of unhoused people in cities weeks before Garcetti signed the ordinance in Los Angeles, saying on July 8 that “clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

The CDC did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for further comment.

LA city councilman Mike Bonin, one of two councilors who voted against the ordinance, said he was “angry and frustrated,” and said the city is responding to homelessness “the wrong way, with failed policies.”

It may be too soon to tell whether sweeps have led to an outbreak of COVID-19, but Pastor Troy Vaughn, CEO of the Los Angeles Mission homeless shelter said, “I think it’s a real concern to not have a controlled process in place to address the pandemic of homelessness in the middle of a public health pandemic.”

Rev. Andy Bales, president and CEO of the Union Rescue Mission homeless shelter, told Insider “most of Skid Row is excluded from the ordinance” effectively preserving “the decades-long policy of corralling and containment of people on Skid Row.”

In a January 13, 2021 opinion submitted by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel of judges argued the city of Los Angeles’ rule prohibiting bulky items in public spaces could be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from “unreasonable government seizures of their property, even when that property is stored in public areas.”

In a joint statement published on September 3, Mayor Garcetti, the Los Angeles Police Department, and LA City Council President Nury Martinez suggested that, despite the city ordinance having taken effect, it doesn’t need to be the last word on the matter of accommodating LA’s unhoused population. “We don’t need to choose between keeping our public spaces safe and clean, and connecting Angelenos experiencing homelessness with the services and housing they need,” the statement read.

Kenneth Mejia, a 2022 candidate for Los Angeles city controller, told Insider he’s disappointed the city went ahead with the rule. “We already know what works to end homelessness: housing,” Mejia said.

“Unfortunately, evidence-based solutions are not reflected in the city’s budget priorities.”

Garcetti’s proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year includes nearly $US1 ($AU1) billion in spending to address homelessness. The city allotted $US58 ($AU79) million of the homeless budget toward CARE+, a program that focuses on cleaning up housing encampments.