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Allowing people to suffer in homeless encampments under our highways is a policy choice

A fire broke out under a major Los Angeles freeway. On Tuesday morning.

KTLA’s Sky5 helicopter shot video of the fire burning next to the ramp that joins the eastbound 105 and the southbound 110. “From what we’re seeing here from Sky5,” the reporter said, “it would appear that it is some sort of encampment that is burning under the overpass.” He noted that luckily there was not as much “fuel” for this fire as for the one that destroyed part of the 10 freeway on Saturday, a three-hour blaze that damaged 100 columns, melted the guardrails and even the front of a firetruck, and led to the complete shutdown of a stretch of interstate highway that’s used by 300,000 vehicles per day.

Also on Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee “Daily Morning Bulletin” newsletter reported the story of an unhoused married couple who were shaken awake by a neighbor in their “encampment near the Sacramento River” last January when rising, debris-filled floodwaters looked ready to engulf them. The Bee reported that the couple had “endured seven challenging years of life on the street, regularly witnessing heart attacks, heat strokes and exposure to parasite-infested water — all while the threat of city sweeps loomed.”

The city sweeps are the threat?

That wasn’t the story told last week in San Francisco, when city and state officials dropped all their previous excuses and demonstrated that they can return the public spaces to their intended use whenever they choose to do so. With the impending arrival for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference of world leaders including the president of China, whom California Governor Gavin Newsom recently visited for a friendly chat and some glamour photos, elected officials made sure that persistent and longstanding homeless encampments were swept away like dust bunnies in the path of a Roomba.

Where was the Roomba emptied?

KQED reported that San Francisco suspended access to “one of its only walk-in homeless shelters” for the duration of the APEC conference to make the beds available for unhoused people living on the sidewalks in the area of the event.

In other words, the city of San Francisco provided shelter beds and offered them to street dwellers, along with a flat “no” to camping on the sidewalks.

“No,” is not the usual policy. Typically, city and state officials in California insist that the encampments can’t be removed unless there are enough free or subsidized studio apartments for every individual currently camping on the sidewalk, street, landscaped median, bike path, flood channel, protected wetlands, beach, boardwalk, freeway embankment, pedestrian bridge or underpass.

Shelters are not a solution to homeless encampments, according to California leaders.

But KQED reported that an official with the Coalition on Homelessness said the previously “walk-in” shelter in San Francisco “will reserve its 56 beds for people who typically camp in the APEC high-security zones.”

How many of those 56 beds were empty until the city told the “people who typically camp” that they had to move?

Gov. Gavin Newsom, with San Francisco Mayor London Breed standing behind him, addressed the question of how the city was suddenly able to solve the previously intractable problem of massive sidewalk encampments.

“I know folks say, ‘Oh, they’re just cleaning up this place because all those fancy leaders are comin’ into town.’ That’s true because it’s true,” Newsom said.

On Monday, Newsom and L.A. Mayor Karen Bass minimized any potential connection between homeless encampments and the massive fire under the 10 freeway. It was started by arson, Newsom said, quickly mentioning that the state has been in a legal dispute with a company that leased storage space at that site. Bass said the adjacent homeless encampment was home to just “16 people,” including a pregnant woman, and that all 16 are now “in housing.”

It would have been better for everybody if the people living under the freeway had been moved into a shelter, but the city of Los Angeles doesn’t want to build shelters, only costly studio apartments with “supportive services,” paid for with tax increases.

In October, Newsom signed Assembly Bills 1607 and AB 1679, enabling more of those tax increases to go on the ballot in L.A. County.

Just say no.

By Susan Shelley | | Daily Breeze PUBLISHED: November 15, 2023 at 10:52 a.m. | UPDATED: November 15, 2023 at 11:17 a.m.


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