Los Angeles – in addition to many other cities across the nation – has again intensified criminalization and forced displacement efforts over the past two years. With this increase, housing and services providers must join other advocates to continue to fight against criminalization in their communities and ensure that local officials integrate more effective solutions to unsheltered homelessness.

My organization, Venice Community Housing (VCH), is a nonprofit affordable and supportive housing provider operating in communities on the westside of Los Angeles, CA. VCH has been active for decades in efforts to prevent and end the criminalization and forced displacement of unhoused residents, and continues to challenge the brutal, racist, and often illegal practices in Los Angeles. VCH has actively opposed all legislation, policies, and practices that result in harassment or criminalization of unhoused people in public spaces who clearly have nowhere else to go, given the housing and shelter shortage. We have supported grassroots organizations and campaigns and leadership among people with lived experience, and we have at times celebrated collective victories.

But, given the recent resurgence of criminalization, it hasn’t been nearly enough. In order to truly make a dent on reducing homelessness and defend human rights, criminalization (and its resulting harmful effects on people experiencing homelessness) needs to end.

The Structural Effects of Criminalization

Criminalization deeply harms people in the moment (and often forever), diverts resources from housing solutions, creates criminal and credit histories that exclude people from most housing in LA, pushes people away from outreach teams, and destroys documents and belongings. All of these factors make it less likely for people affected by criminalization to be housed – should they be lucky enough to get through the lengthy wait list process.

Criminalization and forced displacement are acts of racism, classism, and political cowardice that advance the demands of a privileged and relatively small group of people at the expense of unhoused people and their allies. Time and time again, this approach has proven to fail and cause harm to people already dealing with crisis, trauma, and the extreme lack of affordable housing across the nation.

Solving Issues Systemically

While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated homelessness, the current state of homelessness nationwide is the result of decades of disinvestment in affordable housing and other critical resources; systemic racism in land use policies, housing, employment and mass incarceration policies; and growing income and wealth inequality. It will, unfortunately, take years to permanently end homelessness even in the best of political circumstances, which we do not currently have in LA, California, or the country. Therefore we must share public spaces, be kind to unhoused neighbors, continue the local outreach and street medicine efforts that support people until they are housed, and put vastly more resources into permanent housing solutions for folks on our streets.

Read the full article about ending the criminalization of homelessness by Becky Dennison at National Alliance to End Homelessness.