L.A., ACLU Compromise on Skid Row Camping

In Los Angeles, police and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached a compromise on where the homeless can sleep along Skid Row. The ACLU filed a lawsuit, blocking the arrest of the homeless who camp on streets and sidewalks. The compromise now settles that lawsuit and allows police to make arrests, but only during limited hours.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Los Angeles, the LAPD and civil libertarians have clashed over how to clean up the city's sprawling Skid Row. In fact, the ACLU sued the city and successfully prevented police from arresting homeless people who camped on streets and sidewalks. Well, now the two sides have reached a compromise that will allow arrests, but only during certain times.

Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE: Skid Row has a lot of shelters, single room apartment buildings and transient hotels. They're generally full, but sometimes it appears as if no one ever goes inside of them. The streets teem with people sitting on the curb or wandering in the middle of the street. In the evening, they bed down in tents or the shipping crates often referred to as cardboard condos, and sometimes people are arrested for that - at least that's the way it used to be.

Then last April, a federal district judge rules that it was cruel and unusual punishment to arrest someone for sleeping on the street when there were not enough shelter beds available for everyone in need. Jan Perry, city councilwoman for the area, says that since then, the number of sidewalk tents has mushroomed and that's led to -

Ms. JAN PERRY (Councilwoman, Los Angeles, California): A form of behavior that's even more overwhelming - a lot more women on the street, much more open on drug usage - just a situation that is far more overwhelming.

JAFFE: The agreement designed to curb some of this has not yet been officially announced. It came out of court ordered mediation, and the court imposed a gag order. But LAPD Chief William Bratton and others leaked some of the details to the Los Angeles Times. According to the deal, homeless individuals would be allowed to set up tents and bedrolls between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., though not within 10 feet of a business entrance. For business owners in the area, this isn't nearly enough, says Carol Schotz, the head of the Central City Association.

Ms. CAROL SCHOTZ (Central City Association): This is the pivotal issue for downtown. It determines whether our renaissance can continue to grow and reap economic benefits for the city. And we decided that this was a bad bargain and there was nothing significant to be gained by institutionalizing things as they are.

JAFFE: The deal still must be approved by the city council, which is likely to take it up tomorrow. Council member Jan Perry was part of the mediation group but does not completely support the deal.

Ms. PERRY: Let's have 60 days or 90 days to see if this can even work.

JAFFE: The provision she finds most troubling would require the city to drop its appeal of the federal court ruling, and she'll ask the council tomorrow to reject that.

Ms. PERRY: Because we will open ourselves up for future lawsuits on the same issue, and with this on the books, this could be extended to every council district - any situation where there are more homeless people on the street than beds.

JAFFE: L.A. Major Antonio Villaraigosa plans to devote $100 million to building affordable housing and providing help for the homeless. It's what to do in the meantime that seems to have city leaders stumped.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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