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Los Angeles changes its approach to homelessness as crisis moves beyond Skid Row

De León was among the majority of council members who voted for the anti-camping ordinance in July and voted again last week to expand it. He recently ran afoul of activists from Street Watch Los Angeles, an advocacy group linked to a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, whom he accused of “bribing” unhoused people to remain on the streets.

Members of the group deny the claims, and said in an emailed statement that the new anti-camping zones near Skid Row are “today’s version of the same racist ‘banish, criminalize, contain’ strategy used for decades.”

“Let’s be clear: these options are temporary and carceral, with no clear path to permanent housing on the horizon,” the statement read in part.

Council member Mike Bonin, who voted against the anti-camping ordinance, worries the city’s current strategy is more of a “Band-Aid” than a tonic.

“The city is largely pivoting to solve the problem of encampments and not the problem of homelessness,” he said.

“It’s a strategy born of very palpable anger and frustration,” he added. “They’re motivated by a genuine concern for the public health crisis and concern for people living on the streets, but it doesn’t respond to the problem properly.”

Homelessness in Los Angeles has become endemic throughout the generations, becoming a familiar if embarrassing sight for the millions of people who call the region home. 

Fueled by an affordable housing shortage and the dismantling of social services, tents and encampments have proliferated across Los Angeles even as taxpayer-approved initiatives funnel money into new housing options.  

De León said Los Angeles residents have been “very generous” with their money by funding these measures, but “the city can do so much better.”

Nationwide, about 580,466 people were homeless in 2020, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than a quarter of them are in California, or about 161,548 people. Of those, nearly 64,000 live in Los Angeles County.

Ever day, shelters and organizations work to temporarily house people living on the streets, but every day more people fall into homelessness. On average, 207 people are rehoused daily in the county, but 227 people are pushed into homelessness, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency created by the city and the county.

“It’s our indelible mark of shame,” de León said.

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