U.S. task force warns cities on efforts against homeless camps


Gale Holland


Los Angeles Times

Publication Date: 

September 6, 2015

A ear ago, Mayor Eric Garcetti stood with First Lady Michelle Obama before a crowd of 900 in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza and pledged to end veteran homelessness in the city by 2016.

Six months later, Garcetti and the U.S. secretaries for Housing and Veterans Affairs led columns of volunteers, advance men and news media past the derelict lean-tos and ragged tents of skid row for the official homeless count.

But in the last month, the show of unity on homeless policy with federal agencies in the Obama administration has been fraying. Both the Department of Justice and a federal interagency task force have challenged efforts nationwide that have aimed to "criminalize" homelessness — something critics have accused Los Angeles city leaders of doing with a recent crackdown on encampments.

The federal task force discouraged cities from breaking up camps, saying such actions made it harder to get homeless people into permanent housing. In an Idaho case with potentially broader ramifications, the Department of Justice said banning people from sleeping in the street is unconstitutional.

By ignoring federal guidance, the city is undermining its position in court battles and jeopardizing future funding for homeless housing and services, experts said.

"This should be a shot across the bow to the city, " said Philip Mangano, former homelessness policy czar under President George W. Bush. "The mayor and the council need to be maximizing federal resources, not risking them."

Garcetti declined to discuss his homelessness policies. Citing an unexpected surge in the number of veterans landing in city streets, the mayor last week extended his goal for ending veteran homelessness as late as the summer.