Councilmember Kristina Duggan this week continued to push city officials to discuss new enforcement options to clear out homeless encampments—an idea that’s been met with pushback by some other council members who’ve warned about potential legal challenges.
After receiving a lengthy report from city staff about efforts to manage homelessness in Long Beach, the council will defer the issue to its Public Safety Committee. Duggan is vice chair of the three-member committee.
Currently, Long Beach officials say they take a compassion-first approach.
“Enforcement tools are available,” City Manager Tom Modica said. “It’s not our first approach, but they’re there when it’s needed, and appropriate.”
Duggan has been pushing to examine when those enforcement tools are used since earlier this year when a homeless man assaulted four people in Belmont Shore, including stabbing a father who had been holding his child.
“When should we allow people to sleep in our parks?” she said Tuesday. “When should we enforce encampments blocking our right of way? Do we want to allow encampments to be up against rehab centers?”
“I don’t think so,” Duggan continued. “But I don’t speak for other members.”
The discussion Tuesday came as a result of a council vote in June to look at what other cities have done to limit encampments from springing up near certain locations like schools and parks.
However, there was apprehension among some members to even include enforcement options in the report Tuesday, with some saying outright they would not support new enforcement policies and others questioning if it would open the city up to litigation.
Long Beach already has anti-camping laws, which prohibit sleeping in public parks, beaches, bike paths and other areas between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. But because of a court decision affecting the western U.S., the city must have shelter beds available before officers can force people to leave an area. If there is a bed available and a person refuses it, they can be cited.
Long Beach counted 3,447 unhoused people in the city during its annual homeless count this year but the city only has about 1,300 beds, according to the city’s website.
City Attorney Dawn McIntosh noted that the case does have a carve-out that allows cities to say that people can’t sleep in certain places at certain times, and some cities have used that opening to enforce anti-camping laws to do things like pressure wash streets or other areas.
“It did leave some ability for cities to control when and where, but you can’t stop folks from being in those public areas,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh also pointed to Los Angeles as an example of a city that has been sued for being too aggressive in its enforcement of homeless encampments, and more recently, for not doing enough. It now is part of a settlement where the city has to put funding aside toward building permanent housing to help decrease its homeless population.
Anita Lakhani, a deputy city attorney with Long Beach, recapped a number of ordinances in the region that ban people from camping on streets, parking lots or public areas or those that allow the City Council to declare through a resolution buffers around certain locations in the city.
More strict regulations are being tested in San Diego, where people can be cited for sleeping in certain public areas regardless of the availability of shelter beds. Huntington Beach has a regulation on the books that prohibits tents from being used in public unless they’re open on at least two sides and viewable to the public.
Whether those laws will withstand legal challenges, however, is an open question, McIntosh said.
The report included some new approaches Long Beach could use, such as the creation of a safe camping area, which Councilmember Mary Zendejas said should be considered.
Other things like “day shelters” where people can sleep during the day and “host homes” where residents with extra space allow youth to live in their homes for upward of a year were listed as things the city is considering.
Providing refuse services to encampments to cut down on the proliferation of trash around them could also be something the city considers, according to the report. Voluntary storage, where people can store their vital belongings, could be available once the city completes a planned navigation center that will provide 12 beds for adults under 24 years old as well as storage space.