Thursday, March 26, 2020

VSA Files Amicus Brief in L.A. Alliance Suit against the City and County of Los Angeles

Here is an excerpt from the VSA brief:

VSA urges the Court to order the city and county of Los Angeles to focus all temporary housing for the homeless on structures, buildings and tents that allow for ample and enforceable self-quarantine.  

As the president of the non-profit VSA for the last ten years I have been deeply involved in addressing the exponential increase in the homeless population in my community.  At one point I was the co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee and currently serve as a Community Officer on the Venice Neighborhood Council. I hold a BA in psychology from UCLA and an MA in Urban Studies from the CORO Foundation/Occidental College. On a personal note, for many years I watched as my parents dealt with my drug- and alcohol-addicted younger brother, who would have been homeless had they not converted their garage for him to live in for most of his life. 

As you know, the City of Los Angeles is currently re-purposing city recreation centers for use as temporary shelters for the homeless. While the concept of converting recreation centers to shelters appears appropriate in this crisis, it is contraindicated by the nature of the population itself.

At least 50%, and possibly a higher percentage, of the homeless population simply lacks the required self-discipline to abide by any social distancing protocols. Over 50% are either mentally ill, substance addicted and/or anti-authoritarian, or just too young to accept the seriousness of the situation (as we saw with partying students on the beach in Florida recently). One has only to look at the pandemonium at Third and Rose in Venice on March 24th in the following video to see that social distancing is not being observed: https://veniceupdate.com/2020/03/25/25310/ 

Also, the very nature of living on the streets for prolonged periods with addiction, poor hygiene and sanitation, and lack of medical care, have rendered many in this population immuno-compromised. A larger proportion than the general population have underlying conditions, which puts them more at risk to COVID-19: heart disease, hypertension and/or diabetes.

The result is that placing them in recreation centers on cots on six-foot centers will assure that the virus will spread quickly among the homeless as well as the caregivers who at this time are not expected to have the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent transmission. It also will put those over 60 and the high percentage that are immuno-compromised or have underlying conditions at greater risk than other options. (I would add that this analysis applies equally to Bridge Housing facilities, which are large communal living facilities, with no possibility to self-quarantine.) 

Apparently, the County Sheriff understands the need to thin out jail populations to slow the spread of the virus in jails, but Mayor Garcetti and members of the City Council proceed in contradiction to the obvious, packing homeless into recreation centers and Bridge Housing. 

All the homeless, but especially those over 60 and/or those with underlying conditions or immuno-compromised systems, should be given a priority in rooms in motels, hotels, student dormitories or military-style tents to self-quarantine. 

At UCLA alone, a student housing blog reports there are beds for over 10,000 students, many of which are empty due to the university’s closure. There are thousands of beds at other Los Angeles-area colleges and universities, such USC, Loyola, Pepperdine, etc. These institutions are likely to be closed through the end of August, possibly longer. Students remaining in campus housing may be moved all together in one or two dormitories, freeing up other dormitory rooms for the homeless during this crisis. Major institutions such as UCLA and USC have student health centers which are not now seeing students, which could be moved into action to serve the homeless. Either dormitory kitchens or local, under-utilized restaurants could deliver daily meals. Campus security along with the LAPD could help maintain social distancing. 

Similarly, military-style tents set up on 10-foot or even 20-foot centers on the playing fields or parking lots of stadiums, such as the Rose Bowl and Coliseum, with plenty of bathrooms and even showers in players dressing rooms, and food concessions, would be preferable to recreation centers which have little bathroom and shower capacity.

Of course, the best solution would be the State’s lease of thousands of now-empty low-priced motel and hotel rooms to allow for self-quarantine, especially for those with the virus or those over 60 and/or with underlying conditions.

In light of all the information coming out of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, wide-spread testing, tracing and self-quarantine for everyone is the only path to slow the spread and contain the virus. This is not possible on sidewalks, in recreation centers (or even in Bridge Housing).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

City Recreation Centers as Corona Virus Incubators

This is the letter I sent today to the members of the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC) - that is, neighborhood and community councils in council districts 5 and 11 - in response to the question of the conversion of city recreation centers to homeless shelters:

Ms. Zar,

I would like to share with WRAC members my thoughts on the question of the re-purposing of City recreation centers as homeless shelters in response to the corona virus pandemic.

As some of you know, I have been involved in addressing the exponential increase in the homeless population in my community of Venice for many years.  At one point I was the co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council's Homelessness Committee.  I also hold a BA in psychology from UCLA and for many years watched as my parents dealt with my drug- and alcohol-addicted younger brother, who would have been homeless had not my parents converted their garage for him to live in for most of his life.

While the concept of converting recreation centers to shelters appears appropriate in this crisis, it is contraindicated by the nature of the population itself.

At least 50%, and possibly a higher percentage, of the homeless population simply lacks the required self discipline to abide by any social distancing protocols.  Over 50% are mentally ill, substance addicted and/or are anti-authoritarian, or just too young to accept the seriousness of the situation (as we saw with partying students on the beach in Florida recently).

Also, the very nature of living on the streets for prolonged periods, with addiction, poor hygiene and sanitation, and lack of medical care, have rendered many in this population immuno-compromised.

The result is that placing them in recreation centers on cots on six foot centers will certainly assure that the virus will spread quickly among the homeless as well as the caregivers who will not have the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent transmission. It also will put those over 60 members and the high percentage that are immuno-compromised at greater risk than other options.
 
I would add that this analysis applies equally to Bridge Housing facilities.

Apparently the County Sheriff understands the need to thin out jail populations to slow the spread of the virus in jails, but the Mayor and Councilman Bonin proceed in contradiction to the obvious, packing homeless into Bridge Housing and recreation centers.

As I was quoted in the LA Times recently, the homeless, especially those over 60 and/or those with underlying conditions, should be given a priority in motels, hotels (and possibly empty student dormitories) to self quarantine.

In light of all the information coming out of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, self-quarantine for everyone is the only path to slow the spread and contain the virus.  This is not possible in recreation centers or Bridge Housing.


Thank you for your consideration,

Mark Ryavec, Community Officer, Venice Neighborhood Council

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lawsuit Calls for Immediate Housing of Homeless/ADA Enforcement


Taxpayer Lawsuit Filed to Force Housing of 
All Homeless in Less Expensive Facilities

Attorney Elizabeth Mitchell of the law firm of Spertus, Landes and Umhofer, representing the homeless, property owners, residents and the disabled, has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to force the City and County of Los Angeles to house all of its homeless in less expensive facilities as soon as possible.

The suit contains 14 causes of action, including:

Negligence

The City and County have breached their duty to their citizens to keep their communities’ streets open and available for movement of people and property.

Mandatory Duty

Basic shelter is “medically necessary” insofar as it is “reasonable and necessary to protect life, to prevent significant illness or significant disability, or to alleviate severe pain” and the City and County’s failure to provide the same to its homeless population constitutes a breach of its duty under California Welfare & Institution Code Sections 17000 and 10000.

Public and Private Nuisance

The City and County have caused a substantial and unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of citizens’ property, whether that be a building owned or room rented; each have suffered and continue to be threatened with respect to their health and welfare, by reason of the constant threat of disease and the experience of human waste, trash, and encampments outside their property.

Inverse Condemnation

The actions by the City have limited, damaged, and/or burdened the owners’ property and/or business so substantially they rise to the level of a regulatory taking, yet no compensation has been provided.

Waste of Public Funds and Resources

The City and the County have spent enormous amounts of public funds on the homelessness crisis in ways that have had little or no effect on the crisis, and thereby wasted those public funds.

Violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Numerous acts by the City constitute a “project” under CEQA, including the power-washing scheme which flushes thousands of tons per year of toxic substances into our oceans. The City’s decision to settle Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles is another example of a “project” in the Skid Row area; permitting unlimited property accumulation in the area has caused untold amounts of human waste, trash, debris, and toxic substances to wash into our waterways. Substantial evidence exists that the growing homelessness crisis may have a significant effect on the environment.  Yet no review has ever been done, in violation of the CEQA.

Violation of the California Disabled Persons Act and American with Disabilities Act

The City and County are failing to uphold their obligations to maintain clear and accessible sidewalks and public rights-of way for its disabled residents and visitors, resulting in regular violations of the California Disabled Persons Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These violations are obvious and known to the City and County both through their own inspections and various reports of blocked sidewalks due to encampments through its own reporting mechanisms, such as 311. Defendants and its agents and employees have failed and continue to fail to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled persons using public sidewalks.

Violation of Due Process and Equal Protection

By enforcing the law in some areas and declining to enforce the law in others, and by abdicating their duties under the law, the City has arbitrarily determined where homeless encampments may or may not be located and what communities should be affected, without following their own respective procedures and in violation of both state and federal law. This has placed a disproportionate burden on some persons, communities, and businesses over others.

Violation of State-Created Danger Doctrine

Defendants have affirmatively created or increased the risk that citizens would be exposed to dangerous conditions, which placed these citizens specifically at risk, and these citizens were harmed as a result.

Uncompensated Taking

The actions by the City have limited, damaged, and/or burdened the property owners so substantially they rise to the level of a regulatory taking, yet no compensation has been provided.

Municipal Liability for Unconstitutional Custom or Policy

The City and County acted with deliberate indifference, and conscious and reckless disregard to the safety, security, and constitutional and statutory rights of citizens.

Towards the objective of housing all unsheltered homeless persons as soon as possible, the suit asks for immediate funding and of proven less-costly housing models, including:

1.       Large membrane tents capable of housing 100 people that may be constructed in a few months (cost: $10,000 per bed), e.g., the Union Rescue Mission just erected one at that price.
2.       Large military-grade inflatable tents (cost: $6,000 per bed).
3.       Pallet shelters (cost: $2,000 per bed).
4.       Tent “Kits” capable of housing a family of four, with furniture, refrigerator, heater and electrical generator (Cost: $500 per bed, $2,000 per kit).
5.       SHARE Collaborative Housing, two persons per bedroom in existing single-family homes and multi-family buildings (Cost: $500 to $700 monthly rent self-financed by each individual’s SSI, General Relief and other benefits; $8,000 cost per annuum per person for management, peer-counseling and other social services).

The suit would also require the City to maintain 36-inch ADA access on all sidewalks all the time.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Support the O'Farrell/VNC Motion to Protect Students, Residents, and Disabled Persons from Homeless Encampments

Last week the Venice Neighborhood Council passed the Motion below to protect school children, residents and the disabled from the burdens of homeless encampments.

Please cut and paste the message below asking Councilman Bonin, Mayor Garcetti and City Attorney Feuer to pass it into law.


Dear Councilman Bonin, Mayor Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer,

I urge you to pass the O'Farrell/VNC Motion to protect school children, residents, and disabled persons from the  burdens of homeless encampments. 

This Motion was initially requested by Councilman O'Farrell and drafted by the City Attorney under a proviso in the Martin v. Boise decision, which states:

Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside.  Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissibleSo, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures.


The Venice Neighborhood Council amended the original O'Farrell Motion, which provided buffer zones for parks, schools, school routes, child care centers and homeless shelters and housing, to add 150 foot setbacks for residences, slightly greater setbacks from entrances/exits, and easier access for the disabled to sidewalks.


Send to:

<mike.bonin@lacity.org>

Mayor Eric Garcetti c/o <ami.fields-meyer@lacity.org>
 
<mike.n.feuer@lacity.org>



MOTION TO AMEND LAMC 41.18
(Adopted 2/18/20)

The Venice Neighborhood Council calls upon the Los Angeles City Council to Amend LAMC 41.18 as follows:

(d) No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way as follows:

(1) At any time in a manner that restricts fifteen feet of clearance from any utilizable and operational entrance, exit, driveway or loading dock.

(2) At any time in a manner that restricts passage to less than 36” in any and all directions, as required by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

(3) At any time:

(i)                  Within 150 feet of any structure, with a Certificate of Occupancy, that is in residential use.
(ii)                Within 500 feet of a park.
(iii)              Within 500 feet of a school.
(iv)               Within 500 feet of a daycare center.
(v)                 In or upon any tunnel, bridge or pedestrian subway that is on a route designated by City Council resolution as a school route.
(vi)               Within 500 feet of a facility opened after January 1, 2018 to provide housing, shelter, supportive services, safe parking, or storage to homeless persons. (vi) Bike and other recreational paths.
(vii)              Public areas (non-sidewalk) posted with No Trespass signs for safety purposes.
(viii)            Public areas posted with closing times for safety and maintenance purposes.
(ix)                Crowded public sidewalk areas like those exempted in the Citywide vending ordinance and other large venue-adjacent areas.

Upon passage this Resolution shall be presented as a Community Impact Statement to the City Council for attachment to Council Fire 19-0602-S1 regarding proposed amendments to LAMC 41.18, which was introduced in July, 2019.