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LA is failing on promises tied to homeless encampment policy


Forty-one thousand people are unhoused in the city of Los Angeles. And if all of them wanted to go to a shelter right now, there wouldn't be enough beds. That's one reason LA has a lot of people sleeping on the streets. City officials recently passed new laws to manage this situation, but Anna Scott from member station KCRW reports that so far, it's not going as promised.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Fifty-seven-year-old Richard Carrizales has camped on the streets in and around LA's Silver Lake neighborhood for eight years, even though he'd like to go indoors.

RICHARD CARRIZALES: It is frustrating, though. It is frustrating.

SCOTT: Recently, signs went up on the block where Carrizales has been staying, saying, you can't sleep here anymore. So on this morning, he's off to find a new spot, something he's done before.

CARRIZALES: Well, pack up and just move, just stay out of the way 'cause I don't feel like hearing it because I've been through this so long, so...

SCOTT: So his camping spot became off-limits under a new set of laws passed over the summer. Here's the way it works - LA's 15 city council members can ban camping in certain places, like right by schools or freeway exits, after connecting anyone camped in those areas to whatever services and shelters are available. Carrizales says he was recently approached by outreach workers, but..

CARRIZALES: They come in and tell you the same thing over, and they don't - still don't do nothing about it. It's just another waiting list.

SCOTT: According to multiple unhoused people and homeless service providers, this is typical. They say that the outreach part of the new policy has been spotty. Stephanie Klasky-Gamer is president and CEO of the nonprofit LA Family Housing.

STEPHANIE KLASKY-GAMER: It was meant to be accompanied by a street engagement strategy. That didn't happen.

SCOTT: One problem is that there isn't much to offer. Most shelter beds in LA County are spoken for, according to the LA Homeless Services Authority. And there's something else making the shortage even worse.

NITHYA RAMAN: Los Angeles has essentially built a system where each of the 15 council districts kind of handle the issue for themselves.

SCOTT: LA City Council member Nithya Raman.

RAMAN: And the ways in which this plays out is absurd and incredibly sad.

SCOTT: For example, most of the time, a homeless person in one city council district won't be sent to a shelter in an adjacent district, even if it's the closest one. Not everyone agrees this is a problem. LA City Council member Bob Blumenfield says a district-by-district approach forces officials to create shelters in every part of the city instead of pushing the crisis somewhere else.

BOB BLUMENFIELD: That's what we did for decades, and it didn't work. For decades, we had - you know, when there were homeless people, what happened to them? They got sent down to Skid Row because that's where the openings were.

SCOTT: Yet even with thousands more shelter beds all over LA than there were a few years ago, there still aren't enough. And both the unhoused and the housed are frustrated.

ANGEL SEPRIANO: I'm so used to seeing this living here, and there's nothing they can do about it.

SCOTT: Eighty-year-old Angel Sepriano lives in a house at the end of a cul-de-sac in East Hollywood on a block with a new no-camping zone. As a cleanup got underway on a recent morning, Sepriano looked across the street at a man wrapped up in a sleeping bag.

SEPRIANO: He's my neighbor. When he gets cold, that hat he has on, it was mine. Girl, I get up. I put a K pod in the machine - hot cup of coffee. I brush my teeth. I can't not feel the - what he's going through.

SCOTT: Sepriano just wishes his neighbor had somewhere safer to go. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Scott