As cities nationwide crack down on unhoused populations and soaring rents force people out of their homes, the Los Angeles City Council faced major protests this week when it voted to ban encampments for unhoused people near schools and daycares. The vote expanded an anti-homeless ordinance to include nearly a quarter of the city. “What they’ve done is to just put a finer point on their intention to criminalize folks out of the city of Los Angeles,” says Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, who spoke in opposition to the measure at the meeting. “Houselessness is a byproduct of a failed housing system.”
AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show in California, where the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to ban encampments for unhoused people near schools and daycare centers, expanding an anti-homeless ordinance to include some 20% of the city. The vote came after a dramatic meeting where two protesters were arrested as they denounced the council’s vote.
For more, we’re joined by one of the people who was there to speak in opposition to the measure, Pete White, founder, executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN.
Pete, welcome to Democracy Now! Describe the scene in the City Council meeting. And, most importantly, describe the scene of what we’re talking about, the scope of the problem.
PETE WHITE: The scope of the problem, really quickly — and thank you for having us on this morning, Amy. The scope of the problem is that Los Angeles does not have currently, or never has had, a real housing plan to address the needs of poor Angelenos. It was interesting listening to the last caller. Here in Los Angeles, 120 people exit houselessness every day in Los Angeles, 50% of whom do it on their own, right? Because it’s a matter of rising rents, losing a job. Of that number, 128 people enter houselessness every day in Los Angeles. And so, as you can see, as the homelessness crisis gets worse, there is no reprieve at the end, because there is not a policy to protect people.
What we continue to see in Los Angeles is the march towards criminalization. That is the strategy. And Los Angeles, it’s an anywhere-but-here strategy. It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy. It’s a funding of the police department to solve a social crisis. What we saw in City Hall, not just this meeting, but the meeting before on August 2nd, was the voices of houseless people, the voices of civil rights organizations and tenants’ organizations, saying, “Enough is enough.” This new expansion is on the back or on the heels of a revised ordinance, 41.18, which we consider an ordinance or enforcement by a tape measure. And so, pre-this expansion, L.A. City Council had already voted that if anyone was near 10 foot of a driveway, they would be in violation of this ordinance. Within 10 foot of an operational building, whatever that means, they would be in violation of this ordinance. Within two feet of a fire hydrant, they would be in violation of this ordinance, right? And so, what they’ve done is to just put a finer point on their intention to criminalize folks out of the city of Los Angeles.
The other thing that happened, or the other thing that folks have been witnessing, is the attempted silencing of voices inside of council chambers. And so, for the last three meetings, we’ve had a council president, Nury Martinez, who goes through the speakers’ cards removing names that she knows will be in opposition to this ordinance. It’s not a new tactic, but a tactic that’s being used in such a mean-spirited way is going to warrant a response that says, “Your system that you put in front of us, or these devices that you put in front of us, that purportedly are here to hear our voices, do not work. And tactically, we are going to make sure that the issues are heard by all, by the media and by other Angelenos. And so, you won’t be able to cast houseless people away in silence.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re looking at images of that Los Angeles City Council meeting, and there are riot police there.
PETE WHITE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And I understand that some, like the councilmember you just mentioned, talked about, compared those who came to the meeting to January 6th insurrectionists. Pete White, if you could respond?
PETE WHITE: So, yes, I can definitely respond. And so, while that, to many, is political rhetoric — right? Because when you think about that comparison, what you’re attempting to equivocate our campaign and our coalition is with white supremacists — right? — many with tactical backgrounds, who unlawfully breached the halls of the Capitol and attempted to noose or hang the vice president of the United States, right? You’re attempting to bring that together with Black and Brown or a multicultural coalition who enters our City Hall through metal detectors — right? — who provide and produce our vaccine cards and everything that you require, and then lift our voices in a constitutionally protected manner, right? And so, we know and we also understand the whisper campaign, because it’s more about a tactic of distraction, right? The strategy is to distract. The tactic is to divide.
But there’s something even more sinister about that that folks are missing, and I think we should discuss, right? Everyone in those council chambers, once the councilmember — once the council president talks about this alignment to January 6th, is at risk, right? We don’t have to look back far, when we looked at the FBI Black identity extremist report, when the FBI in 2017 was attempting to equivocate peaceful protest of Black activists with the sort of upsurge of white supremacist movement. And so, for us, while some say this is just political rhetoric, folks like myself and other Black and Brown organizers, it does worry us, because we don’t know if we’re going to get a visit from the FBI. We don’t know sort of the ways in which the state will come down on us for simply lifting our voices in a protected manner. And we’re very well aware of this whisper campaign. And we want to make clear that there are connections, and it is bigger than just their rumor mill.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you are calling for in Los Angeles right now?
PETE WHITE: One hundred percent. I mean, we’re calling for Los Angeles right now, what we’ve always called for. Instead of the criminalization of the houseless community, we are calling for housing preservation. We are calling for housing development at area medians that actually impact those on the ground. Like your first caller was — what she was saying was absolutely apparent — is absolutely apparent in Los Angeles: The rent is too high. Right? We are calling for city-owned and government-owned properties to be turned back over to community trusts, and for those buildings and that land to be converted into housing for houseless people. We are calling for leadership that recognizes houselessness is a byproduct of a failed housing system, or a lack of a housing policy, and poverty. Right? And so, we are calling for leadership that can produce a plan and implement.
In Los Angeles, it continues to be a vicious cycle. And at the end of the day, police are always called to solve the crisis or to remove those who would dare oppose the criminalization of poverty. I will just say this: This is not new. In 2010, the LAPD stormed council chambers, where myself and 300 others — seniors, children and tenants — were there for over five years, waiting to testify on a policy that made better tenant protections. After five hours, they attempted to clear the room. Police with billy clubs, with riot gear, in the same ways that you saw, stormed the crowd, beat and tased members. One of my members, a senior citizen —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds, Pete.
PETE WHITE: — had a toe amputated. Yes. So, this is not new in Los Angeles. And what we’re calling for is housing for all, housing that’s affordable at the lowest levels of affordability. Thank you for the opportunity.
AMY GOODMAN: And it will be very interesting to follow your mayoral race in Los Angeles, where you have the Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass versus the billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso. So, that is coming up in November. Pete White, founder and executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN.