The City Council’s meeting on Feb. 13, 2023 passed the anti-camping ordinance on the expected three to two vote, making it illegal to sleep in public with anything more than a sleeping bag. The central challenge is that the new law cannot be enforced until the city provides the support services required by federal standards. Exactly when those services will be available is still unknown.
The meeting began with an update from the city staff on the proclamation of a homeless emergency in January. City Manager John Nachbar and Housing Director Tevis Barnes discussed the Project Homekey hotels, and the Virginia Avenue ‘safe camping’ site in detail, owning that the problems they were encountering with making those support systems workable were still daunting, and a long way from being solved.
The hotels, which will offer a total of 73 spaces for housing, are now due to open in July.
Commenting on the original opening date of November 2022, now far in the rear view mirror, Nachbar offered “It’s pretty clear we engaged in wishful thinking. We were hoping to get [some] additional funding that came with meeting that deadline…The amount of time its taken is not the result of anyone’s failure. Just buying a couple of old hotels, one of them really old… [we have encountered] the need to replace every wall, every system and a new roof on one of the buildings. “
Additionally, Southern California Edison has to provide additional support for electricity to make the new kitchens functional. This requires upgrading the current electrical systems in major ways.
The ‘safe camping’ site on Virginia Ave. is planned to have tents on raised platforms, with the whole area covered by a large industrial awning. The city plans for a security guard and regular visits from medical personnel, as well as case managers and “so folks get what they need.”
The safe camping site, which has yet to even begin construction, is tentatively scheduled for opening in March of 2023.
As the meeting turned towards the anti -camping ordinance, more than 60 people offered comments from the floor, the overwhelming majority discussing the need for support and services, and decrying the idea of making homelessness a crime.
One of the first to comment was Culver City resident Phillip Lelyved. “It’s frustrating to the support organizations for the unhoused, and especially cruel to the unhoused population.”
The vice chair of the city’s homelessness committee, Bubba Fish, observed that “The math not adding up is just one of many signs of the lack of seriousness of this proposal.” Even with the hotels and the camping site open, the latest count shows that many people will still be unsupported. “At best it’s thoughtless, at worst, it’s a cover to move people however they see fit. Either way, the harm it will cause people is real.”
Community activist Disa Lindgren stated “The idea that enforcement has any place in a “balanced approach” to addressing homelessness is wrong on its face. Compassion and enforcement do not and cannot work together, and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.”
While discussion continued past midnight, the council voted along the expected lines – Mayor Albert Vera, Jr., Council member Goran Eriksson and Council member Dan O’Brien all voting in favor, and Vice Mayor Yasmine Imani McMorrin and Council member Freddy Puza voting against.
The rush to put a law into place that is currently unenforceable and widely seen as putting people’s lives at risk has put the council majority into unique territory. Any enforcement before services are available opens the city to the risk of litigation, and since there will not be enough services for everyone to be supported, there may be no date at which this law can be enacted.