How L.A. Plans to Address Intersecting Issues of Homelessness and Open Space

In California, agencies are working to redefine enforcement and safety procedures as the number of homeless individuals who seek refuge in vulnerable open or wild landscapes continue to increase.
September 1, 2018, 11am PDT | rzelen | @rzelen
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Daniel Arauz

The total homeless count in Los Angeles County is 52,765 and 75 percent of the homeless population are unsheltered in LA County. Roughly 40 percent of homeless individuals in Los Angeles are sleeping in encampments or tents. Although Southern California has supported funding for supportive housing via voter initiatives, the number of homeless individuals has only just begun to stabilize and tick down. 

One of the more unique issues for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which manages much of the open space and wild landscape of Los Angeles County, is the interaction between public safety, homeless individuals seeking refuge, and ecosystem management. 

In an excerpt by The Planning Report, state and local agency representatives discussed how they are working to redefine enforcement and safety procedures. The panel, assembled by Conservancy, featured Armando Hogan of the LA Fire Department, Dominic Choi of the LA Police Department, LA City Park Ranger Albert Torres, and District Superintendent for California State Parks Craig Sap provided insights into how Southern California is tackling the new challenges of increased extreme heat. 

Albert Torres discussed a lack of funding for LA City's Parks and Rec department to address problems. He stated, "What I would ask is for additional funding and I would ask for at least two more teams to service parks in Los Angeles using the same formula we’re doing now or developing it into something better."
Departments have begun collecting better data and working collaboratively, but challenges around enforcement remain. As evidenced by Park Ranger Torres, he described the philosophy of never giving up in attempting to help individuals accept services. Torres noted that "no matter how illegal or inappropriate it might be for a homeless person to be there, the fact is that I am removing them from their home. That is profound. I can only imagine how it might feel. We deliver compassion because people don’t have any options." At the same time, he also spoke to the difficult balancing effort of enforcing laws and protecting other resident's abilities to enjoy clean parks.  
The Police Department discussed their efforts to assemble a Homeless Task Force and Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (HOPE) teams. Because the city of Los Angeles has very high fire hazard zones, the city's task force includes Recreation and Parks, LAPD, Sanitation, and Fire. The Fire Department has mapped out where all the encampments are and the fire risks.

Commander Choi explained that "once they’ve been identified and located, LA City’s HOPE team goes out and impacts them, leading with services—going out there and talking to individuals, seeing if we can get them services, shelter, and voluntary compliance to get them out of these areas."
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Published on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 in The Planning Report
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