In an effort to manage its homelessness crisis while maintaining public safety, Long Beach will look into policies that other cities have used, with a report due to the City Council in the coming months.
The City Council voted to move forward with the report, which some members requested after a stabbing in Belmont Shore last month, during its Tuesday meeting.
Police shot the stabbing suspect, who was unhoused, after he attacked multiple people on May 30, including a man who was holding his 2-year-old child. The incident prompted a community meeting with high-ranking city officials that left some attendees frustrated.
Councilmember Kristina Duggan, the author of Tuesday’s request for the city to look at enforcement options for encampments in the city, said that residents did not like hearing that the city’s “hands were tied.”
“If services are being offered and not being accepted, I think it’s reasonable to look at not sleeping up against an elementary school,” Duggan said Tuesday, noting that while the city has ramped up its efforts to house people, not everyone was accepting city services.
The proposal asked for the city manager and city attorney to look at what measures other cities have taken, including required buffer zones between encampments and schools, parks and other areas where children frequent.
An update is expected to be presented to the council in August or September as part of the city’s six-month update on the state of emergency on homelessness that was declared in January.
The proposal that was ultimately approved Tuesday was criticized by members of the public and some members of the council, who said it appeared the city was looking to criminalize being homeless in Long Beach by looking outward to see how other cities have limited encampments.
Lee Charlie, a 1st District resident, pointed at Councilmember Mary Zendejas’ comments from October, where she inaccurately attributed a stabbing spree to a homeless person during a LA County Metro committee meeting, saying that unhoused people are often blamed for bad incidents even if the people committing them are not homeless.
The man arrested for the stabbing was not homeless.
“That was a bold-faced lie,” Charlie said. “The man was having a mental issue. He was not homeless.”
While the proposal was seen by some as penalizing the most vulnerable population in the city, some councilmembers said the city had a duty to protect other vulnerable populations, namely children and families.
“I can think of no more vulnerable position than walking a toddler to preschool,” Councilmember Daryl Supernaw said, citing a recent incident in which a parent was allegedly spat on while walking her child to school.
Some council members sought to block the request and kill it by voting to simply receive and file it, rather than moving forward with requesting a report. Councilmember Cindy Allen said she couldn’t support any policy options, and Councilmember Roberto Uranga said that he saw “future problems” with the request and it could be an invitation for a lawsuit.
“We don’t want that, we don’t need that,” Uranga said.
Allen and Uranga were the lone dissenting votes.
Long Beach’s last homeless count, conducted earlier this year, found 3,447 people living in some state of homelessness, with 71% of them being unsheltered.
A Supreme Court decision (Martin v. Boise) largely limits cities’ enforcement of camping in public spaces unless they have enough beds to offer the number of unhoused people in their city. Long Beach currently has between 1,100 and 1,300 beds, which likely means it would be limited in how it could enforce any new policies that might be presented to the council.
The six-month update to the council is expected to contain a refresher on Martin v. Boise, the city’s long-term vision for managing homelessness in the city and also a look at other cities’ policies on enforcement.