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Senior lead officer Geoff Taff, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division, is at the front line in the effort to find solutions to the homeless issue in the community.
Frequently while on patrol, he sees new faces in the division of people who are homeless, and the numbers are on the rise. While criminal matters are immediately investigated and individuals are arrested if they are suspected of committing crimes, being homeless or sleeping on the street is not a crime, and it is a difficult issue for police to address.
“We try to stop and talk with them and see if they are veterans, see if they need help and see if we can get them into a shelter,” Taff said. “Sometimes it helps, but a lot of them don’t want to follow the rules at the shelters.”
Taff said one such individual has recently frequented the corner of La Brea Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, and was piling a large amount of personal belongings on the sidewalk. Police contacted the unidentified homeless man multiple times, and he appears to have moved on to another location, Taff said. The officer added that the situation illustrates the difficulties in addressing homeless issues, as the man did not want to accept assistance.
Yafit Barades, the owner of Crepe + Kitchen restaurant near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, added that she is sensitive to the plight of the homeless, but the man’s belongings stacked up at the corner for three weeks was “bad for business.” She added that she is thankful that the police came out to speak with him.
“He says it’s his legal right to be here,” Barades said. “He doesn’t really bother us. But all day and night, it’s a problem.”
Capt. Howard Leslie, of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, said police are working on a comprehensive approach in which officers identify people who are chronically homeless and then make contact in an attempt to direct them to services. He has assigned a sergeant to develop additional plans and oversee efforts, and his officers are working with the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition to address the issue.
“It’s a quality of life issue that can’t be dealt with by putting someone in jail,” Leslie said. “We are trying to figure out a broader outreach of how we can solve the problem, rather than just making it go away for 24 hours.”
Homelessness increased 12 percent countywide during the past two years according to figures released earlier this year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). The Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti are taking steps to address the issue.
The city council has created a committee on homelessness, and has approved a plan to allow for belongings to be removed from sidewalks and public places within 24 hours. The mayor asked that enforcement of the plan be postponed until the council can modify the ordinance to address issues such as the confiscation of medications and important documents. While the ordinance is on hold, police are following the previous regulations that require the posting of a notice and a 72-hour waiting period before belongings are removed. The items are then stored in a warehouse downtown for 90 days, and are destroyed afterward if they are not claimed by the owner.
Garcetti also announced on July 30 that he is forming a plan to end homelessness in the city by the end of 2016, according to reports. No details were available about the plan, which is still being formulated. Calls to the mayor’s office seeking comment were not returned.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said he has noticed an increase in homelessness in his district, and he hopes that a comprehensive approach will work.
“We recognize it is a serious problem,” Koretz said. “For the first time, we have a committee focusing on the issue. We obviously want to resolve the issue as fast as we can.”
Scott Epstein, chair of the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition, said his group is working to find housing and resources for the homeless in the areas between the Santa Monica (10) Freeway and Melrose Avenue, and from La Cienega Boulevard to Western Avenue. The organization, which operates in partnership with LAHSA, held a count of homeless individuals in the area in late January. Approximately 1,000 individuals were found to be living on the streets in the area.
“That’s approximately 2.5 percent of the countywide homeless numbers,” Epstein said. “It definitely appears to be on the rise.”
Epstein added that the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition will take the first steps to directly contact homeless individuals and provide resources this Saturday, and he encourages anyone interested in volunteering to join the group. Participants will gather at 9 a.m. for a volunteer orientation at the Open Space Cafe Theatre , 457 N. Fairfax Ave. Members will then go into the community at 10 a.m. to contact homeless individuals in the area and provide them with information on resources. For information on participating, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/training-outreach-with-midtown-homelessness-coailition-tickets-179392-87893. The coalition is planning to hold the outreach on a monthly basis.
Epstein said one of the main things homeless people need is stability and housing. He said the recent increase in homelessness can be attributed to economic issues, the gentrification of neighborhoods and resources that are spread too far throughout the city. While no singular reason is evident, Epstein said he knows what does not work.
“In terms of just moving someone away, it doesn’t solve the problem,” he added. “Unless we get people the permanent help they need, they are just going to go somewhere else.”
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