City leaders are grappling with how to address homelessness in West Hollywood after a growing number of resident concerns have surfaced about crime and safety.
“We are dealing with a situation that’s unprecedented,” Mayor John Heilman said at the Sept. 18 City Council meeting. “And we are dealing with people who are, in some instances, very aggressive, and are making our public streets and right of ways unacceptable.”
It’s an issue that has received increased scrutiny after Kisu Bradey Brown, 41, described as a transient, allegedly attacked a customer with a machete at a 7-Eleven store on Santa Monica Boulevard in early September. The incident occurred after a customer offered to pay for items that Brown allegedly tried to steal.
At the September public safety commission meeting and the council meeting, residents lined up to voice their concerns.
Resident Stephanie Harker told the council that, over the past few weeks, neighbors have had repeated encounters with people they believed were homeless.
A homeless man recently tried to set up a tent inside the gym at The Dylan, luxury apartments on Santa Monica Boulevard, Harker said.
“This is the type of stuff we’re dealing with,” Harker said.
There were 135 arrests involving homeless people in West Hollywood from January through June, according to a city staff report.
Based on the trend over the first six months of 2017, city staff estimates that the number of homeless-related arrests will decrease compared to 2016.
The 2017 point-in-time count data, collected by coordinated efforts through the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, showed that West Hollywood had an estimated 105 people without homes, an increase from the 81 people counted in 2017. Ninety-two of them were living on the street, unsheltered.
Councilman John D’Amico said he would take the unpopular stance of asking the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station to enforce the city’s laws banning people from sleeping on sidewalks and other public spaces.
D’Amico said he didn’t believe that people sleeping outside should be arrested, but rather told they were not allowed to sleep outside. If West Hollywood becomes known as a place where you cannot sleep outside, that might prompt them to go elsewhere, he said.
D’Amico said he and a friend were walking back after having coffee in West Hollywood when his friend was shoved by a man perceived to be homeless. He also mentioned the axe attack at the 7-Eleven.
“I think we should do everything we can to get people into shelter,” D’Amico said. “… We pay for shelter, and we pay for drug and alcohol rehab. If people don’t want to engage with that, I don’t think that that’s our problem, but I do think it’s wrong for us to continue to enable people to lay down on the street and go to sleep.”
Heilman said the city shouldn’t believe that it can arrest its way out of homelessness.
“Right now, somebody who doesn’t want treatment, who doesn’t want services, unless they’re a danger to themselves or others, or unless they’ve committed a crime, there’s nothing we can do,” Heilman said. “We can’t force them into treatment. We can’t force them into a shelter, nor can we arrest them, so what do we do with people like that, especially the ones with severe mental challenges? There’s an effort to make it easier for intervention.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, 3rd District, has offered to help the city address homelessness, and could potentially fund a similar effort to the intensive outreach being done in Santa Monica for people with untreated serious mental illnesses, Heilman said.
Capt. Sergio Aloma, of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, said he has been planning a coordinated effort between law enforcement, mental health professionals and other outreach workers to go into the community and start building relationships with people who otherwise would be unlikely to seek care.
Aloma said he anticipates taking a group of officers and health care professionals into the community soon, but it will not be to arrest people. It will be to help them.
“We want to make sure this is an intelligent approach to the issue,” Aloma said. “… We could bring out a bunch of deputies and say ‘OK, zero tolerance – go arrest everybody, whether they’re sleeping on the sidewalk or littering.’ That’s if we wanted to get to the letter of the law, zero tolerance. But what is that really accomplishing at the end of the day?”
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