Los Angeles accused of criminalizing homelessness

Tue Jul 14, 2009 10:51pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two major advocacy groups for the homeless on Tuesday ranked Los Angeles as the "meanest" city in the United States, citing a Skid Row police crackdown they say has criminalized poverty and homelessness there.

L.A.'s so-called Safer City Initiative was singled out in the groups' report as the most egregious example of policies and practices nationwide that essentially punish people for failing to have a roof over their heads.

Others include making it illegal to sleep, sit or store personal belongings on sidewalks and other public spaces; prohibitions against panhandling or begging; and selective enforcement of petty offenses like jaywalking and loitering.

Such measures are widespread in the face of a deep economic recession and foreclosure crisis that have increased homelessness over the past two years, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Their report examined laws and practices in 273 cities across the country, with Los Angeles topping the list of the 10 "meanest cities" for what the study called inhumane treatment of homeless. A previous report, issued in early 2006 before the crackdown began, ranked L.A. as the 18th meanest.

Under the Safer City effort, thousands of L.A.'s most destitute residents have been targeted for harsh police enforcement, routinely receiving tickets for minor infractions such as the failure to obey crossing signals.

As a result, the study says, many are jailed and end up with a criminal record that makes it more difficult for them to find a job or gain access to housing.

A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement dismissing the report as "short-sighted and misleading."   Continued...

<p>A homeless activist visits "tent city", a terminus for the homeless in Ontario, a suburb outside Los Angeles, California December 19, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>