It’s Time To Ban Bans

In Los Angeles, homeless encampments are banned near schools and daycare centers. While the City Council made this decision with good intentions, the ban has been highly protested. Many believe that banning encampments is not a real solution to the issue. Why are homeless bans harmful and what does LA’s ban mean for the city?  

On Tuesday, August 9, 2022, the Los Angeles City Council approved a ban on homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers. The meeting had been disrupted and halted for nearly an hour by protestors who said the ban is not a real plan and criminalizes homelessness.

This latest proposal was raised after the Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, Alberto M. Cravalho reported that young students were being traumatized by the sights they saw on the way to class. The ban passed on an 11-3 vote, reflecting how severe and widespread the region’s housing crisis has become.

Supporters of the ban say homeless camps are a health and safety threat to schoolchildren, particularly the disruptive presence of individuals with mental illnesses or drug addictions. Councilman Gil Cedillo, who voted in favor of the ban, said, “The point of this measure is not to solve homelessness at all. The point of this measure is to protect safe passage to schools.”

Protestors, on the other hand, believe the measure will further criminalize homelessness. Many homeless advocates are against bans, as they punish those experiencing homelessness for living on the streets rather than address the root issue. 

Steve Diaz, who spoke out against the new rules at the Tuesday meeting, told the Council that “you would be investing more money in permanent supportive housing, wraparound services and ensuring that people were able to access housing as needed, and not into increased policing.”

And he has a point. Seeing as enforcing this ban will be complicated and costly, it is not hard to see why protesters want the city’s money to go towards efforts that would help individuals who are homeless. 

Rather than support the homeless populations, cities often implement an out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy by banning and sweeping encampments. While officials in the West have been restricted from banning encampments after the Martin v. Boise decision determined that criminalizing homelessness violated the Constitution, cities go to extreme measures to get around Martin v. Boise through loopholes, such as the decision made in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Ananya Roy, a professor and housing justice advocate for UCLA, observed, “It’s not an effort to alleviate poverty, it’s an effort to manage visible poverty and get it out of sight.”

Passing measures such as the one voted on in Los Angeles this past week is not a solution to homelessness. In fact, they do not solve any problem, not even the intended goal. For instance, banning encampments near schools may create a short-term solution in terms of providing safer routes to school. However, the long-term effects of such a ban will be costly and complicated, as the city tries to reinforce it, and as the homeless population continues to grow without support.

So where does this leave the city of Los Angeles?

Pete White, founder and executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, sees a trend towards criminalization in the city’s strategy. He believes that the homelessness crisis will only worsen, as there is no policy to protect people.

White calls upon Los Angeles, and other major cities as well, for housing preservation instead of criminalization. The root cause of homelessness in major urban cities is the lack of affordable housing, which is why advocates for the homeless demand that more units of housing for individuals who are homeless be created. Ultimately, Peter White wants “leadership that recognizes houselessness is a byproduct of a failed housing system, or a lack of a housing policy, and poverty.”

City officials who are voting on banning or sweeping homeless encampments, or implementing any sort of ban that restricts the homeless population, should reevaluate their options and if this is the best way to spend their money and resources. 

Bans and sweeps are not a solution to homelessness. They are a distraction. They illude us into thinking that because we no longer see homeless encampments near us that they are no longer a problem. However, this could not be further from the truth.


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