Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meanest City, Homelessness, & Public Safety

Los Angeles was recently ranked as the meanest city in the nation—as reported by the LA Daily News—for its successful efforts to reduce the crimogenic degradation unrestricted homelessness often creates in urban areas, and a revealing story from City Journal gives a horrifying look at what had been happening in Los Angeles’s Skid Row before those efforts took hold.

The folks who created the report awarding the ranking—which also mentions Sacramento on page 77—are working to decriminalize aspects of homelessness that most communities, including Los Angeles, demand as public safety measures, and as Sacramento struggles to come to terms with its homeless population, these resources are valuable for the insight they provide into the various strategies being played out across the country around this issue resonating within our local communities.

An excerpt.

“Los Angeles is famous as the nation's capital of movie stars and rich and envied people. But its lesser-known distinction as the nation's homeless capital has earned it a new title: the "Meanest City" in America.

“In a report released Tuesday, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless named Los Angeles the No. 1 "Meanest City" out of 273 nationwide.

“The report says a primary reason for the dubious honor was a new Los Angeles police crackdown called the Safer Cities Initiative that it claims has trapped tens of thousands of poor, homeless and disabled residents in the criminal justice system.

“In January 2006 - before the Safer Cities Initiative began - a similar report released by the same group ranked Los Angeles as the 18th "Meanest City."

“Advocates for the homeless said the city vaulting up the negative rankings reflects government decisions that are harmful to the homeless.

"This isn't to say that homelessness and criminalization isn't a problem everywhere, but to be pointed out as the worst among more than 270 cities is a strong indictment of policies that continue to put police over housing as the main response to homelessness," said Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a community organization and advocacy group that works with homeless and low-income people.

“But a spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa blasted the report, calling it “short-sighted and misleading."

"It fails to detail the city's housing-first strategy, which reflects national-best practices for housing and services that help homeless individuals stay off the streets," said Villaraigosa spokesman Casey Hernandez in a written statement. "And the assertion that Los Angeles criminalizes homelessness is simply false."

“He said the mayor has committed more than $100 million since 2007 to housing the homeless, and funded more than 1,078 housing units for the homeless, more than in the past 12 years combined.

“The Safer City Initiative, he said, has helped reduce crime by more than 35 percent, particularly in areas with high populations of homeless.

"The city's first priority is to protect our most vulnerable residents from violent crime," Hernandez said. "The city dedicated an additional 50 officers to Skid Row to protect its residents and remove a significant criminal element that historically hinders efforts to provide services to the homeless."