To combat coronavirus, L.A. could let homeless people’s tents stay up all day


Three members of the Los Angeles City Council called Tuesday for the city to temporarily stop enforcing a law requiring tents to come down during daytime hours, saying the change is needed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Councilmen Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Gil Cedillo said the city must “urgently reevaluate” its policies for dealing with homeless encampments — and temporarily stop confiscating the possessions of homeless Angelenos unless those items are deemed to be hazardous.

The proposal also calls for city agencies to install portable toilets, hand-washing stations, dumpsters and vermin-proof trash cans at major homeless encampments. Those areas would also receive weekly shower service.

Homelessness is a “public health crisis that is ongoing, continuing and worsening,” the three council members wrote. “That crisis is made exponentially worse by the spread of COVID-19.”


Councilmen Jose Huizar and Paul Koretz also signed the motion, which could come up for a vote as soon as Tuesday.

Homeless advocates described the proposal as a much-needed health and safety measure.

“The worst thing we can do is push people outside” of their tents, said Mel Tillekeratne, main organizer for the #SheDoes movement, which advocates for shelter for homeless women. “This is giving them a space to stay, rather than moving around in the community.”

Under the proposal, city workers would still have the authority to require homeless residents to move their tents so that sanitation crews can clean sidewalks and remove hazardous materials, said Bonin spokesman David Graham-Caso.


Still, one business leader voiced alarm at the proposal, saying she fears it will cause the city’s homeless encampments to expand even more, increasing the spread of rats and disease.

“We cannot make this health emergency any worse by allowing this accumulation to grow even larger,” said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn., a downtown business group. “On what planet is that a good idea?”

The proposal is one of several emergency measures proposed at Tuesday’s council meeting, the first since City Hall was closed as a measure to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Council members are also looking to put a moratorium on evictions and impose new sick leave requirements for workers. In addition, elected officials are weighing efforts to provide more free meals for seniors and relief for businesses suffering from a lack of customers.

Under the city’s current laws, tents on sidewalks and in other public areas must come down between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. The proposal from Bonin and his colleagues would still require removal of tents that are within 10 feet of an operable driveway or if they block access for wheelchair users.

The proposal also would instruct officials to provide 24-hour access to restrooms at city libraries, parks, recreation centers and other public facilities.

Theo Henderson, who lives in a park in Chinatown, said the move to allow tents to stay up during the day should continue even after the threat from COVID-19 has subsided.

Allowing unhoused residents to maintain their tents, he said, would protect them against other health threats.

Homeless people “are not just 18-to-24-year-olds with perfect health,” said Henderson, who hosts the podcast “We the Unhoused.”


Article Date: 
Tuesday, March 17, 2020