Recently, a photo was published showing the aftermath of what appeared to be a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer shooting a person experiencing homelessness with a rubber bullet. This image, and many like it, capturing a potential moment of police brutality or harassment against people experiencing homelessness has sparked numerous conversations both inside and outside of LAHSA. Chief among those conversations has been the question of whether or not some of LAHSA’s outreach teams should continue their partnerships with law enforcement agencies throughout Los Angeles County. LAHSA finds police violence unacceptable against all individuals and especially against vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. We continue our call for immediate and lasting reforms within law enforcement agencies and across the criminal justice system as a whole.
LAHSA’s Relationship with Law Enforcement
LAHSA, as a joint powers authority of the City and County of Los Angeles, does not fund nor are our teams funded by law enforcement entities. However, the City and County do fund teams that work with LAPD and Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department (LASD) as a part of the City and County comprehensive homeless strategies that aim to decriminalize homelessness. This model provides alternative tools to law enforcement officers beyond citation or arrest. Currently, LAHSA deploys outreach teams in advance of encampment clean-ups to offer services and help prepare those living encampment prepare for the clean-up, and, when appropriate, advocate on the unsheltered residents’ behalf. LAHSA has led efforts within the City of Los Angeles and across the County to ensure that such clean-up services are designed to provide necessary public health services to those living outside and not as a mechanism to remove encampments.
LAHSA firmly believes and advocates for all interactions with people experiencing homelessness to be led by outreach and social service professionals through a trauma-informed approach, not by law enforcement entities.
Our outreach teams are experts in their work and are an invaluable resource to those we serve. They deliver services with the compassion and empathy that is needed to help someone with the complex task of ending their homelessness. However, they don’t work 24/7, and law enforcement does.
Actions & Next Steps
It must be acknowledged that so long as we have people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Los Angeles, there will be some interactions with law enforcement. To the extent that is unavoidable, we want to work with law enforcement to align our values and principles to ensure safety and dignity for those we serve.
Yesterday, we invited all LAHSA team members to a town hall meeting involving our Executive Director Heidi Marston and the head of LAPD’s homelessness unit to discuss these questions and more. At LAHSA, we encourage our teammates to express their opinions and have a constructive dialogue about the issues facing us. We look forward to continuing this conversation and providing the best services possible for people experiencing homelessness throughout LA County.
We believe and advocate for the decriminalization of homelessness. We are eager to work with City Council President Martinez and Councilmember Wesson on their motion to think differently about response to non-violent crisis situations, including the possibility of responses being conducted by crisis intervention workers. We look forward to working with the City Council to make this vision a success.
We also advocate for the expansion of the First Responder Homeless Training to all law enforcement agencies throughout Los Angeles County. This training improves how first responders address and engage homeless persons in the communities they serve.
We pledge to continue to hold ourselves and our partners to our values of accountability, collaboration, compassion, equity, and integrity; to serve our clients in accordance to our Guiding Principles and Practices for Local Responses to Unsheltered Homelessness; to continue to use demographic data to make informed decisions on how to serve our clients.
We will continue to work with the LAHSA Commission on creating significant and lasting change in the homeless services system and to advocate for change across all social safety nets.