Criminalizing Houseless Families in Los Angeles

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Vehicularily Housed families in Venice Beach are under attack

by Terri Fry and Caitlin Abber/PNN

I slowly dialed Terry’s telephone number, and waited as three rings passed. When she picked up, I was surprised by the sound of her voice --- it was sandpapery in texture and soft in volume. I introduced myself to her, and without even asking a question, she voraciously launched into her story.

It started over a year ago, she told me, when through a series of “confusing and heartbreaking events” she and her two children were evicted from their apartment building and found themselves sleeping in their car. From then on, she said, it has been a constant struggle to remain both housed, and out of the way of police and vengeful neighbors.

She told me about her children, both in their teenage years. I couldn’t help but notice that her stories were punctuated with pleasant details of comfortable adolescent life. “My daughter was at the beach with her friends, when…” “My son was at basketball practice, while…” As someone who came of age while personally experiencing poverty, I found comfort with the image of her children finding moments to be carefree. When I was working twenty hours a week after school and dealing with tension of just getting by, allocating time to be young and play was nearly impossible.

But there is no doubt that Terry’s family is dealing with the reality of what it means to be living in a vehicle: people disrespecting you and your home, the police coming and banging on the windows, returning from work only to find your home being towed away. Without many options, they are in a constant state of relocation from town to town, fast food parking lots to church shelters. And then, when they do find a place to park their RV, they are met with constant dissent.

“It is utterly exhausting” she sighed.

She told me about the night she was attending a meeting for homeless rights, and received a phone call from her son. He was lying on the floor of their RV, ducking from strangers who were peering in the windows. The whole RV shook as they banged on the doors, shouting for him to come out. He whispered to his mother that he was scared, that he did not know what to do. Over the phone, Terry told her son to be silent and wait, and that she would be back as soon as possible.

When she arrived, the strangers were gone, as was her son. He called to inform her that he had run to a friend’s house when the strangers left, and that he would spend the night there just to be safe. Terry dragged her hand across the bruised and damaged door of her home, feeling the chipped paint and rust on her fingertips, the large open wounds of sheet metal could cup her palms.

The fists that banged on the door of Terry’ home were that of a “vigilante housing group”, who Terry explained, “Seeks to criminalize house-less and vehicularly housed folks in Los Angeles”. To drive vehicularly housed folks out of the area, they slash the tires of their vehicles, put hate-mongering fliers in their windshields, and create one or two hour parking zones so that families like Terry’s must move their cars multiple times throughout the night. “The city says no parking at night,” Terry sighed, “so then there is no place for us to park, no place for us to be”.

These forms of harassment are significant hate crimes that the entire city of Los Angeles turns a blind eye to. In Terry’s opinion, nobody seems to care that these horrible things have been happening, because in Los Angeles (just like the rest of the country) being homeless is a crime.

Proof of this resides in the “Poverty Courts” set up in San Francisco as well as New York City. The San Francisco court is slyly named the “Community Justice Center”, and it serves as a way for law enforcement to prosecute and incarcerate folks for camping out on sidewalks, avoiding shelters, and sleeping in cars. Los Angeles’ method of discriminating against the vehicularly housed is Overnight Parking Districts (OPDs).

According to the LA Times, “Under the program, overnight RV permits will cost $10 per night, with large vehicles allowed to stay in one spot for three consecutive nights. But permits won’t be given to the owners of RVs who also are living in them, said Alan Willis, principal transportation engineer for the city’s Department of Transportation.”

What this means is that families like Terry’s must constantly move their vehicles, or pretend they are not living in their cars. Terry said that she is used to law enforcement and angry neighbors spying on her more, damaging her home, and harassing her children, but that she is frankly terrified of what will happen next.


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