DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Around the country, cities with big homeless populations have passed laws banning things like panhandling or sleeping in public areas. Here in Los Angeles, officials are cracking down on people living in vehicles. But as Anna Scott from member station KCRW reports, the rules create their own problems.
ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: It's not unusual in LA to come across clusters of motor homes, like on this big commercial street in North Hollywood.
EDITH GRAYS: This area right here, thank God they're not following the signs. It's only for two-hour parking, but they're not bothering us right now.
SCOTT: Edith Grays is one of nearly 10,000 people who live in vehicles inside LA city limits. Some live in cars, others in vans, but campers and RVs are the most visible and the hardest to park. Grays and her husband ran a window-washing business until her husband had several strokes and couldn't work.
GRAYS: That put us where we couldn't make rent, so we bought the motor home.
SCOTT: But it's been tough. LA's City Council recently reinstated a ban on sleeping in vehicles overnight in residential areas. The rules also forbid living in vehicles within a block of a park or a school. I asked Grays how much of her time is spent looking for parking.
GRAYS: All of it, and it's very difficult. It causes a lot of stress in my life. Today the parking people went by. They looked at us because we're only supposed to be here for three days. But where do you move to?
WALTER HALL: Within the last couple of years, we started to have campers and mobile homes parked along Coldwater here.
SCOTT: Walter Hall owns a home near Coldwater Canyon Avenue, close to where the Grays are parked. He says vehicle encampments have caused parking shortages and sanitation issues.
HALL: Garbage and public urination - that's the type of thing that we really would prefer not to see.
SCOTT: Hall supports the city's rules, even though they aren't strictly enforced and mostly just shuffle people around.
HALL: You know, this type of thing is described as a whack-a-mole. They disappear one place only to reappear someplace else.
SCOTT: One thing that could help is safe parking; that is, lots designated for overnight camping with security and port-a-potties. LA only has about 100 safe parking spots for more than 5,000 vehicles, a tiny fraction of the need. Officials have promised to expand that, but in the meantime, critics say having strict parking rules is inhumane.
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MEL TILLEKERATNE: This is a stupid law. This law, if passed, is going to directly contribute to these people being on the street.
ERIKA FERESTEN: Several of the families at my children's elementary school are struggling with homelessness, and it's unconscionable that they would be criminalized.
SCOTT: Erika Feresten and Mel Tillekeratne were two of dozens who showed up at City Hall recently when the parking rules came up for renewal. Laws restricting living in vehicles are on the rise around the country, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. And when LA's City Council voted 13-to-0 to extend its version, protesters temporarily shut down the meeting.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you.
SCOTT: During a break, council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson said he agrees that the city's small safe parking program and widespread restrictions aren't a sufficient solution.
MARQUEECE HARRIS-DAWSON: Of course it's inappropriate. It's inappropriate to have 30,000 people living on the street. I mean, I agree. But the city needs just time to get ahead of this problem.
SCOTT: The city council will take up the parking rules again early next year.
For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.
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