Is There a Ferguson-Effect With LAPD Homeless Response?

When a young black teenager was shot and killed last summer by police in Ferguson, Missouri, no one would have thought the following year would lead to an increase of violence and murder throughout cities across America. Especially when crime had consistently been reduced in the passed decade.

Although, controversial, some suggest this violent increase is due to police officers pulling back from enforcement because they fear prosecution. It is called "the Ferguson-effect."

Whether this is true or not, some in Los Angeles are suggesting that a similar police response is occurring in regards to homelessness in this Southern California city.

Earlier this year, a federally-mandated homeless count revealed that Los Angeles' homeless population increased, even though the city and county housed 10,000 people who were homeless in the past three years.

The surprising number in this count was that the number of visible encampments nearly doubled in Los Angeles. Ask most Angelenos, and they will confirm that homelessness is more noticeable than ever - and, not just within the confines of downtown's Skid Row, but everywhere.

Business owners and residents throughout Los Angeles are calling up their local councilmembers adamantly complaining about the makeshift tents, beat-up old vehicles and tarps set up on sidewalks for all to see.

In response, the Los Angeles City Council created a homelessness and poverty committee, and the Mayor designed a "battle plan" to address homelessness.

What is missing in all of these valiant efforts is the creation of an appropriate role for law enforcement, many who are the front line responders to homelessness.

In the past, when encountering people who were homeless, police officers would provide directions to nearby homeless shelters or tell people to move on. Now, such efforts don't work.

Most of those who were more willing to be housed have been housed, and the people who are more chronically homeless have difficulty admitting they need housing.

In the past six months, however, I have met with numerous leaders within the Los Angeles Police Department to discuss L.A.'s growing homelessness crisis. The sentiment overall is frustration.

This frustration is partly because a majority within their ranks truly wants to help those on the streets who are suffering. But also, because they are seeing a larger criminal element preying on those who are homeless, and preying on the neighborhoods where homelessness is prevalent.

Lawsuits and ordinances are becoming the weapon of choice for addressing homelessness. Legal advocates for the homeless, with their lawsuits in tow, are battling with city officials, and their proposed legal ordinances to clean up the streets.

Ironically, those who are most caught in the middle are the people who are homeless on the streets, and those who are charged with enforcing law and order on those same streets.

Law enforcement officers have thrown up their hands out of frustration, not knowing how to respond while the legal battles continue. So many people believe the result is lawlessness, at least in regards to homeless encampments.

Could this police response be considered L.A.'s version of a "Ferguson-effect" to homelessness - let's call it the "Los Angeles-effect"?

California typically leads this country in trends. Let's hope the Los Angeles-effect to homelessness does not sweep into other cities.

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