November 24, 2022
On November 17, 2022, our new councilmember-elect Dan O’Brien described his plan for addressing homelessness in an interview with Culver City News. It’s incomprehensible.
O’Brien starts with the premise that not enough housing is available for the homeless, that “providing housing is a long term game,” and so until that housing is available we need “enforcement of encampment laws.” He wants to approach unhoused people with services and housing and if they refuse say, “I’m sorry you can’t be here.”
But his premise is that providing the necessary housing is a “long term game,” so what exactly is being offered and refused in this hypothetical? It can’t be housing: he admits there’s not enough of it.
Rather, a centerpiece of his plan, and one that anti-unhoused advocates have been clamoring for, is “an ordinance that makes camping on our sidewalks illegal.” But this is just for show. Culver City already has an ordinance on the books that makes it a crime to maintain any personal property that obstructs or encroaches on public property including sidewalks or any right-of-way. Why waste time adding a new way to criminalize unhoused people?
In fact, O’Brien claims to believe that unhoused people shouldn’t be criminalized at all: “I do not believe we should incarcerate someone because they are unhoused.” But at the same time he’s asking for criminal enforcement of laws that target behaviors that are simply unavoidable for people who can’t afford a place to live.
He wants criminal enforcement against people for camping on the sidewalk, or the creek, or the senior center, or anywhere, but he doesn’t want to wait until sufficient housing is available so unhoused people can actually choose housing if they want it. He even wants the laws making it a crime to urinate or defecate in public to be enforced against people who have no choice but to live in public, with no private space, and a serious lack of publicly available bathrooms.
Maybe O’Brien would say that he wants enforcement but not arrests — that he doesn’t want to lock people up just for being poor. But in his hypothetical, after the city says, “I’m sorry you can’t be here,” what does he expect the city to do if the unhoused person refuses to leave? If the police aren’t arresting unhoused people or violently forcing them to move, then how does he imagine these laws will be enforced?
And in the alternative, if the unhoused person leaves, where does O’Brien expect them to go? Given that there’s not enough housing available for unhoused people, it’s been shown that this kind of enforcement only pushes our neighbors from street to street, from one encampment to another, often setting back any progress made towards getting off the streets.
Criminalization and enforcement has never been shown to actually reduce the number of people living on the streets, except when it results in taking people who live on the streets and locking them up. I don’t believe that’s what O’Brien wants, and I don’t believe it’s what the people of Culver City want, especially those Culver City residents who are unhoused.