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Editorial: City ban on sleeping in cars further disadvantages homeless students in LA

By Editorial Board

Aug. 11, 2019 11:07 pm

For the homeless population, living in a car is a practical alternative to sleeping on a sidewalk or at a bus stop.

Until city government gets involved, that is.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 13-0 on July 30 to reinstate regulations governing where people can live in their vehicles. Effective immediately, people cannot spend the night in their vehicle on a residential street or live in their cars at any time within a block of a park, school, preschool or daycare facility, according to the rules.

The city council first established the ordinance in November 2016, but it expired at the beginning of July 2019. The reinstated regulations will now be in effect until January 2020.

These regulations are intended to keep Los Angeles peaceful and safe, according to the ordinance.

But in effect, these rules only serve to further disenfranchise the homeless population.

As of 2019, over 16,500 individuals live in cars, vans or campers in Los Angeles County. For a college student living in their vehicle, the added burden of having to live away from campus and the surrounding residential areas is more than anyone should have to bear.

But these new regulations are just the beginning – violation fines range from $25 to $75 depending on the number of offenses.

These rules are an impediment to the well-being of homeless individuals in the first place, but the fines associated with violating them create undue pressure – especially for students already attempting to finance their way through college.

And while the number of homeless individuals in Westwood decreased by 39% this year according to a July Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority report, the issue remains pervasive.

Despite the percentage decrease in homelessness in UCLA’s surrounding city, homelessness in Los Angeles County increased by 12% this year. Among college students, 11% of California State University students said they were homeless one or more times in the 2017-2018 academic year, and 5% of University of California students reported being homeless during the same time period.

Los Angeles spent $619 million on homelessness aid resources last year, yet few projects have been completed.

Surely, homelessness is a complex problem to solve. But we cannot let resources or options for struggling individuals dwindle – much less take away from them an already limited array of options

Homeless college students, including those at UCLA, will bear a brunt of this ordinance. For many students, living in their car is the only option.

But now, that option conflicts with their proximity to education.

Granted, the rules do not prohibit people from spending the night in their cars in commercial or industrial areas. But those spaces are limited around UCLA, and many cities have instituted parking bans because of complaints from property owners over noise and garbage. The city offers various “Safe Parking” programs, but these efforts have proven costly and insubstantial relative to the vast homeless population of LA.

Unless this program or others can substantively change the already harsh reality of homelessness, the city council has no right to limit the ability for people to live in their cars.

The homeless population – college students included – deserves access to resources to aid their living situations.

Their options are already scarce.

Limiting them further is not the solution.

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