Services Not Sweeps: Ending the Criminalization and Forced Displacement of Unhoused People
Written by Becky Dennison, Executive Director of Venice Community Housing
Los Angeles – in addition to many other cities across the nation – has again intensified criminalization and forced displacement efforts over the past two years. With this increase, housing and services providers must join other advocates to continue to fight against criminalization in their communities and ensure that local officials integrate more effective solutions to unsheltered homelessness.My organization, Venice Community Housing (VCH), is a nonprofit affordable and supportive housing provider operating in communities on the westside of Los Angeles, CA. VCH has been active for decades in efforts to prevent and end the criminalization and forced displacement of unhoused residents, and continues to challenge the brutal, racist, and often illegal practices in Los Angeles. VCH has actively opposed all legislation, policies, and practices that result in harassment or criminalization of unhoused people in public spaces who clearly have nowhere else to go, given the housing and shelter shortage. We have supported grassroots organizations and campaigns and leadership among people with lived experience, and we have at times celebrated collective victories. But, given the recent resurgence of criminalization, it hasn’t been nearly enough. In order to truly make a dent on reducing homelessness and defend human rights, criminalization (and its resulting harmful effects on people experiencing homelessness) needs to end.
How Local Laws Influence HomelessnessNo two municipalities have the same laws that criminalize homelessness, though the intent and result is often the same. Here are a few examples of what these policies have looked like in Los Angeles recently, exacerbating the trauma experienced by unhoused residents that VCH works with:
- the LA City Council approved a new version of LA Municipal Code 41.18 that continues to criminalize the basic rights of everyone to sleep, sit down, or have property in public space;
- Los Angeles Police Department and City elected officials launched a massive police raid to enact the largest forced displacement in recent years in Echo Park;
- there are regular and ongoing seizures and destruction of property by City Sanitation and LAPD, instead of providing health-based street cleaning and regular trash pickup services; and
- the Los Angeles City Council recently voted to approve a settlement to end litigation that expressly relies on criminalization efforts and minimal shelter options instead of any emphasis on permanent housing solutions.