As New Attempts at Compassion Arise in Long Beach, LA Returns to Banning Sleeping in Cars

Photo by Brian Addison.

DeVaugn [last name redacted] has been living in her car for nearly a month now with her teenage daughter, most of it spent at Bixby Park in Long Beach though she isn’t from here.

“I used to live in South LA,” she said. “But my building got bought and I received a notice that my rent was going up—y’know, beyond my means. I live paycheck-to-paycheck like a lotta folks in that neighborhood—all my neighbors had to leave… I asked my daughter where she wanted to be for the time being and she said, ‘The beach.’ So we came here so I can still commute to work and take her to school.”

7,000 people use their car for shelter on a daily basis in Los Angeles, making the ban on sleeping in a car a targeting system toward our most marginalized population.

This is a story that you will likely hear more and more as Los Angeles County (and the state) faces a dire housing shortage that is also mixed with a complex dose of gentrification and high-end development (with little affordable units attached). When it comes to laws regarding whether one can or can’t sleep in their car, the issue then becomes a human issue, which is why Los Angeles re-implementing a controversial law—one that was previously struck down by a federal judge—is something that Long Beach should look at with eyebrow raised.

For one, the previous point that the law hasn’t stood up in court is an important one. LA has faced continual litigation regarding how it treats those experiencing homelessness, from illegally seizing property to the aforementioned law—one that Long Beach already has: Municipal Code 10.18.040: “Living in vehicles prohibited: No person shall use or occupy any recreational vehicle, trailer coach, camper, van or other vehicle on any public street for human habitation or camping purposes.”

But perhaps most is the pressing human side of the issue. Homeless advocates across Los Angeles raised concerns that LA’s law does nothing more than further burden an already burdened population and criminalize homelessness, especially considering 7,000 people live in their cars in Los Angeles.

In terms of Long Beach, it already has a history of attempting to alter the law currently in place.

Back in 2009, 6th District Councilmember and ever fighter-for-jobs-and-the-poor Dee Andrews made a plea to the Long Beach City Council to move forward with a proposal that would allow the homeless to sleep in their cars safely.

“It’s a compassionate plea—and in this economy, we’ve got to come together as human beings,” Andrews said.

The proposal asked the city to examine possible costs, liabilities, and locations where homeless people could safely park and sleep—include municipal properties, industrial lands, church parking lots, and property owned by nonprofit organizations. Councilmember Andrews’ point wasn’t grounded solely in idealism; he also wanted to take the burden off of residential neighborhoods impacted by either a lack of parking or, frankly put, a heap of disturbance at people sleeping on their streets.

At the time, then-City Prosecutor Tom Reeves said his office processed 20 to 30 citations a month for violations related to people sleeping in their cars.

It was not passed—which is why 2nd District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce has taken up the idea again, along with evidence of success in other cities, about creating a Safe Parking program for those who don’t have shelters that echoes Andrews’ previous proposal.

In terms of the current law, wording is important if not somewhat murky when it comes to interpreting it.

Sleeping, per se, is not prohibited,” said Marlene Arrona of the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD). “However[…] Sleeping may be considered camping based on the totality of the circumstances.”

The ultimate issue with the law, however, is that is doesn’t provide an alternative for elsewhere to sleep—hence the ire of homelessness advocates.

“It’s a compassionate plea—and in this economy, we’ve got to come together as human beings.” —Councilmember Dee Andrews

Pearce’s proposal, brought to Council in October of last year, was unanimously passed (with 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo absent), pushing City Manager Pat West and his staff forward with looking into a program that not only looks into how to move people who reside in their cars off the street and into safe spaces but—and more importantly considering Andrews’ 2009 proposal—a caveat that would assure that these to-be-determined locations would provide basic essential services and connect individuals with programs that will work to move them into permanent housing.

“We know that Safe Parking is not an end-all be-all solution, but it’s an important part of the equation towards ending homelessness—especially while we continue to identify and develop more permanent housing stock in Long Beach,” said Julia Gould of Pearce’s office. “Providing people with effective case management and a secure place to sleep at night—where they don’t have to worry about citations, robbery, or constantly having to ‘move along’—allows them to put their energy towards securing a job or an apartment and ultimately gets them off the streets.”

The proposal would look at best practices already set forth in cities ranging from San Diego to Santa Barbara while examining municipal and church properties, along with others, that could act as safe havens for those using cars as shelter.

Other cities have incredible numbers to show off:

  • Santa Barbara’s Safe Parking Program moved 61 people into permanent housing during their last fiscal year alone.
  • In Seattle’s Road to Housing, they have successfully moved over 100 people into housing. 
  • In San Diego, 65% of all their participants have obtained housing or moved into long-term transitional housing programs.

The City Manager is expected come forth within the coming months with suggestion on the


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