The strategy that the city of Los Angeles has used to tackle the problem of the homeless has been to hide them in order to prevent unpleasant sights and discomfort among the public.
Therefore, for a while, the Los Angeles Police Department was confiscating and destroying the property that homeless people were temporarily leaving on the sidewalks. In 2012, a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit repealed the rule that allowed this.
On Thursday, that same court declared unconstitutional a 1983 ordinance banning the use of a vehicle as “living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.”
The ordinance was implemented and those affected complained, but without major consequences. Then in 2010, police began carrying out special operations in the Venice area in response to complaints from neighbors. This led to debatable arrests, fines and vehicle impounds, according to an ordinance that federal judges nullified because it was vague and not very clear.
The police confiscated vehicles from people who were drinking coffee, waiting for their shift in their car or had a sleeping bag in the car. The lack of clarify left police officers with room to maneuver, so they could base their actions on discriminatory personal judgments.
On the other hand, the large number of people living in their cars today is more a reflection of a middle class shattered by the economic crisis than of chronic homelessness. Immigrants are very familiar with the devastating effect of having a vehicle impounded. They use their cars to go to work and losing them means being unemployed, which turns into a vicious circle.
Los Angeles is currently testing more positive ways of fighting chronic homelessness, like providing housing and services. Those who live on the street temporarily need help to get back on their feet, or at least, for the authorities not to harm them. The court did the right thing.