(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
La Cañada High School

The dehumanization of people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County

In 2005, most of L.A. County’s homeless population was condensed on skid row, according to the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles. Roughly 3% of the country’s homeless population resided in only 0.0001% of L.A. County’s total land area.

Today, with the immense rise in homelessness, the population has expanded across the county. Los Angeles was once able to enforce ordinances and contain homeless populations in distinct areas. 

“What the ninth circuit court said is it’s cruel and inhumane punishment, under the eighth amendment of the constitution, to enforce ordinances when people have nowhere else to go,” Eve Garrow of the ACLU said in 2019, according to NBC L.A.

While homelessness has increased, Los Angeles has seen an increase of violence against homeless people.

In October 2019, an arson attack in Los Angeles left people dead or injured, and encampments destroyed by flames, according to the L.A. Times.

Two men allegedly threw a “firework” toward a homeless encampment and set it ablaze near Eagle Rock in August 2019, according to the Times.

A 59-year-old homeless man was robbed and beaten to death on skid row in August 2019, the Times reported.

Bill Bedrossian, the chief executive of Covenant House California, a nonprofit group that provides shelters and programs for homeless youth, told the New York Times that people’s frustrations around homelessness illustrate an “increase in the lack of empathy.”

There are also more “vigilante facebook groups” that not only post violent and explicit messages against people experiencing homelessness but have even posted and livestreamed attacks against people in places like San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles. 

L.A. has a history of trying to criminalize homelessness. In the 2006 case of Jones v. City of Los Angeles, the Supreme Court ruled against a Los Angeles law that criminalized sleeping, sitting, or lying on the street during the day. In 2014, Desertrain v. City of L.A. ended a law that banned people from sleeping in cars.

In 2016, a lawsuit regarding police tactics that were used against homeless people in L.A. alleges several instances in which police seized property and destroyed tents without warrants. 

Los Angeles police have arrested people experiencing homelessness at a rate that outpaces the growth of the city’s homeless population. LAPD’s arrests of homeless people increased by 37% from 2011 to 2016, while the homeless population increased by 21% in that time period, according to UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project

“What’s important to think about is that also if total arrests are declining and arrests of houseless people is going up, it might indicate resources are being shifted to target that population,” Danielle Dupuy, leader of the Million Dollar Hoods Project said to LA Weekly in 2017.

Rising levels of homelessness has led to a shift in policing towards a vulnerable population. People experiencing homelessness regularly face dehumanization and criminalization.