Are California Towns Illegally Banning Camping?

illegal ban on camping

According to Two City Councilmen, They May Be Doing Just That

Los Angeles residents and officials have long felt that their city is pulling more than its fair share of weight when it comes to addressing the state’s homelessness crisis.

Increasingly, homeless people are being encouraged (or forced) to leave spots in LA’s suburbs and surrounding areas. This concentrates the bulk of the homeless population within the Los Angeles city limits. In turn, it places a disproportionate strain on the limited resources available there.

Now, two city councilmen allege that LA’s surrounding areas may be doing even more to keep homeless people out – illegally banning them from public camping.

Wait, Aren’t Camping Bans Cruel and Unusual Punishment?


But if what councilmen Mike Bonin and Joe Buscaino are saying is true, police and other officials in LA’s neighboring cities haven’t been playing by the rules.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional to punish people sleeping in public spaces if they don’t have anywhere else to go.

And in these cities surrounding Los Angeles, there definitely isn’t anywhere else to go. They offer few, if any, shelter beds or homeless resources. And apparently they prefer to push their homeless neighbors away to the big city rather than taking steps to actually solve their problems.

I guess the right not to see the effects of poverty and unaffordable housing is more inalienable than the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment?

Talk about backwards.

LA’s Resources Are Stretched Thin

It’s no secret that Los Angeles is in the midst of one of the worst homelessness crises we’ve ever seen. This year’s 16% increase in the homeless population within the city was shocking to many. But could it have been influenced by these illegal public camping bans in other cities?

It’s very possible.

If neighboring towns are using their police forces to move homeless people out of their area and into LA, that could artificially inflate the city’s numbers.

Some people have tried to defend this mindset with statements like, “Well, LA is best equipped to handle these people. They have more resources, so the homeless will definitely have a better life over there.”

Well, LA’s resources are finite, and currently stretched to the breaking point. And just because they’re doing a better job doesn’t give you the right to sit back and do nothing!

Don’t get me started on people hiding behind the “I did it for their own good” defense. This is no excuse for poor treatment of homeless people. Suffice it to say, in almost all cases, no, you didn’t.

In this specific case, it’s more likely you did it to “clean up” your neighborhood, respond to complaints from other residents, to avoid building shelters and supportive services, or just out of sheer discrimination. In short, for your own good. At the expense of society’s most vulnerable.

But I digress.

What’s Actually Being Done?

Right now, all we have to go on are allegations and anecdotal evidence.

Still, when homeless people explain their firsthand experience with being removed by police and told to move into LA city limits, it’s hard to ignore.

One homeless woman reported that police in Culver City are so anti-homeless that they not only routinely require homeless people to move their belongings over the dividing line into LA, they also harass her for even walking into Culver City limits.

Councilmen Bonin and Buscaino have asked LAHSA to complete a comprehensive investigation and report their findings.

What Can We Do About This?

If hearing about homeless people being subjected to illegal cruel and unusual punishment makes you mad, well, it should! And if you’re mad, you may be wondering what you can do to rectify the situation.

Luckily, there are a few things that can be done.

LA city councilmembers are already putting increased pressure on their neighboring cities to take responsibility for the homeless people in their communities. They want them to either make many more shelter beds available or allow public camping in their cities. Bonin and Buscaino have already enlisted the help of City Attorney Mike Feuer in determining what legal avenues they can use to make them do the right thing.

As citizens, we can join in this campaign to put pressure on California’s cities.

If you live in LA, encourage efforts to make surrounding cities do their part in treating their homeless residents fairly, as well as acting in compliance with the 9th court’s ruling.

If you live in Culver City or other communities near LA, pressure elected officials to change their bad behavior. You may also try giving the stink eye to neighbors who complain about things like “the homeless menace”. Although I’m not sure how effective that will be.

Probably a better move would be to organize your like-minded neighbors to offer some counterbalance to the NIMBYs who seem to come out of the woodwork, loud and proud, at town halls and other meetings. Show up in support of your homeless neighbors to show your representatives that people who vote are watching.

If you live anywhere else, keep watching this story as it develops. Needs will become clearer as grassroots initiatives grow.

Stop Banning Camping, It’s a Bad Idea

Even if it weren’t illegal, unofficial camping bans like the ones we’re seeing here are still immoral. Not to mention just plain dumb. The logic behind them is the same logic that says “if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.”

Or even worse, “I know it’s still there, but now I just don’t care.”

If you don’t want people sleeping on your streets, the best thing to do is to provide housing. Or, at the very least, temporary shelter. Merely forcing them to move somewhere you can’t see them isn’t going to solve anything for anyone with more object permanence than an infant playing peek-a-boo.

Californians, let your reps know that you want these illegal bans to stop!

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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