By Margaret Brown
Los Angeles’ local anti-poverty activists are reeling, and calling for help this last week, as news has emerged that the city of Santa Monica, having newly elected “Bobby” Shriver --the brother of Maria Shriver, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife --is now preparing what is probably the single biggest new push of anti-homeless laws in the nation. Included in the plan is new military control of Westside Los Angeles homeless people.
Local Santa Monica activists are now calling for help --nationwide.
At a recent March 22 Santa Monica City Council meeting, a new report was released revealing that the City of Santa Monica, long a leader in anti-homeless laws, is now preparing to pass a new collection city laws that would:
--make it illegal for any homeless person to set down a backpack for more than ten minutes on any sidewalk,
--lie, or sit, on any sidewalk in the city,
--shave, bathe, wash clothing items, or otherwise use any public restroom in the city,
--sleep anywhere in a vehicle,
--and sweep the homeless from all freeway sides and ramps.
In addition to the new local laws --and since the election of Shriver --anti-homeless forces in Santa Monica, perhaps with his help, are also proposing to close all city showers that open before 6 a.m., and that serve homeless people who must also work. They are also proposing that the Santa Monica city police now transport anyone found intoxicated in Santa Monica to a new “sobering center” five miles out of town from Santa Monica –and dropping them off there --in Culver City. And they are pushing that Santa Monica support the creation of a large new “homeless shelter” --under military control on the grounds of the nearby Westwood VA Hospital.
At the city council meeting, a local veteran has already stated veiled threats that the homeless would be welcomed at the VA “like oil on water;” and that the homeless “lacked control.”
. The plan has LA activists shocked: stated David Busch, one local volunteer activist who works with Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness, and who also testified at the March 22 council meeting; “We really don’t know who will be in control if they build a shelter on VA grounds. Santa Monica is already considered by the National Coalition for the Homeless to be one of the top 20 ‘meanest cities’ towards homeless people. And all this is just clearly a long planned-out effort to now lead America --and make Santa Monica first in pushing draconian new anti-homeless measures. In South LA there is only one shelter bed for every 47 homeless persons: If these laws pass in Santa Monica what will it mean for the rest of LA?”
Pleads Busch, “We are really calling on LA residents and others nationwide to help us to stop this new push in Santa Monica now. They may be afraid of the public spotlight, and we are calling for a massive email and phone calling campaign to the Santa Monica City Council’s main numbers.”
Laws in the city of Santa Monica already attempt to ban all outdoor meals from groups like Food Not Bombs --which must serve up to half of the city’s admitted 1,000 homeless. Another notorious Santa Monica law literally bans even the giving of a cookie to any member of the “public” without a city permit. Currently, there are only about 500 shelter beds in Santa Monica; and only the homeless people already in shelters have access to even one hot meal per day --outside of the attempts by Food Not Bombs, and a handful of other groups who now face constant jail threats for their work in city parks.
This --in the face of one 1998 LA Times calculation which stated that an additional 2% of the city’s 0 million dollar Santa Monica city budget would shelter all of the city’s homeless.
Many of the city’s other proposed laws, moreover, like the ban against people who are living in vehicles, were beaten back by local activists in the past. Other laws, like laws against lying on the sidewalk –as they are currently in the city of Los Angeles –are already facing injunctions prohibiting their use against homeless people. The LA injunction was brought by former local ACLU attorney Carol Sobel: in the face of widespread sweeps against homeless people on Skid Row.
Nevertheless, Santa Monica seems now to be trying to apply massive legal pressures to beat back these civil rights victories like Sobel’s. Moreover, despite well-publicized efforts by the anarchist activist group “Axis of Justice,” and the National Lawyer’s Guild, a current law which criminalizes the handing out of any food to the public in Santa Monica is still in effect. No judge has yet struck it down.
Throughout Los Angeles County, according to the official count of the homeless population, more than one in 20 adults countywide has experienced homelessness in the last 5 years. And on any given night there are estimated to be up to 84,000 homeless people: roughly 1% of the county. While some consider these figures a vast underestimation, they are also cited by LA County Supervisors, and the LA Sheriff Lee Bacca, and LA mayor James Hahn in a plan entitled “Bring LA Home.”
What is not in serious dispute however, is the fact that throughout the entire county there are only about 19,000 shelter beds to serve all homeless people. And the fact that even conservative institutions like the United Way have recognized Los Angeles County as the “Poverty Capitol” of the nation.
Moreover, despite widespread claims by officials in Santa Monica that the city has more than it’s ‘fair share’ of the countywide burden of homeless people --actual official census figures of ‘residents,’ published by the city, show that 1.24% of the city is homeless; compared to Long Beach, which has officially recognized 1.3% of the city’s homeless. Activists also charge that the ‘resident’ calculation in Santa Monica was included to ignore the fact that the city’s actual daytime population swells to 150,000 to 300,000 --or more --due to office commuters and tourists. “The claim that Santa Monica is flooded with homeless people is simply a human rights violating ploy,” states Busch.
So far only one Santa Monica Councilperson has publicly opposed the push --a Green --Kevin McKeown.
Shriver had campaigned in large part on promises to “help” the homeless in Santa Monica. Some local activists are targeting Shriver --who has yet to denounce any of the measures –and seems unavailable to them for comment. Other local activists have started a nationwide email and call in campaign on the ActionLA listserve to raise awareness of the massive new police measures. Says on local Green Party activist, Charity Luv, who says she is involved in finding solutions: “ Not all homeless people are alcoholics, drug addicts –or have mental problems. There are middle-class, poor --as well as rich people --facing homelessness everyday. We need people nationwide to email Santa Monica City Hall now, to help stop these inhumane laws, before they set a new tougher national precedents. Think about it --anyone in America is susceptible now to being homeless.”
FOR MORE INFO, SEE: http://santa-monica.org/cityclerk/council/agendas/2005/20050322/s2005032207-B.htm
(City Staff Report) http://santa-monica.org/cityclerk/council/agendas/2005/20050322/a032205.htm
(AGENDA, ITEM 8-A) http://santa-monica.org/cityclerk/council/agendas/2005/20050308/s2005030807-D-1.htm
(new anti-homeless restroom law) http://www.codemanage.com/santamonica/
(SEE ANTI-FOOD CODES 5.06.010, and 5.06.020)
City and County Stats on Homelessness: http://www.weingart.org/institute/research/other/pdf/homelessness_in_los_angeles-a_summary_of_recent_research.pdf