LA's new rule: homeless people are only allowed to own one trashcan's worth of things

A new law passed by the LA city council prohibits homeless people from owning more belongings than can fit in a 60-gallon trashcan with the lid on, and allows police to summarily confiscate any tents that are still standing on public property during daylight hours.

The law is a response to Los Angeles's epidemic of homelessness — a rise in homelessness that's clocked in at 20% of two years.

Of course, homelessness isn't like smoking, a lifestyle choice that can be disincentivized given enough government arm-twisting. Homelessness is a human rights crisis, brought on, in part, by Bill Clinton's cruel and vile "welfare reforms" (which were passed by adding "compromises" that allowed state governments to be even crueller, an arrangement that came home to roost when the Tea Party started electing governors who ran on a platform that demonized poor people, and subsequently began to literally starve the poorest people in their states).

There are many reasons that people become homeless, but all homeless people share one plight: they don't have a home. Shelter is a human necessity, only one up from food on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But the property bubble has converted shelter from a human right to an asset class, driving governments to go to extraordinary lengths to make shelter more expensive: imagine if governments's surest path to re-election was to make food more expensive.

LA Council is worried about the impact of homelessness on the quality of life in Los Angeles, but attacking homelessness won't make the numbers go down. To reduce homelessness, you have to provide people with homes.

That's the opposite of what's happening in LA. Thanks to the property bubble, LA's landlords are demolishing their rent-controlled buildings to make way for McMansions, with 1,000 rent-controlled apartments going off the market last year, triple the decline in 2013.

A developer, Wiseman Residential, had purchased the properties and evicted six residents there. The developer plans to replace 12 rent-controlled units with 30 pricier apartments and three units for lower-income tenants, according to building permits.

The same company has since acquired Newkirk's fourplex and the building to her north, property records show. She fears she will soon be evicted too.

"They are going down the block and I'm the next building," said Newkirk, who rents a one-bedroom apartment on North Hayworth Avenue with her husband and infant daughter for $1,350.

Over the last decade, Wiseman has evicted at least 237 tenants from rent-controlled properties in Los Angeles. The company purchased more than a dozen other properties where landlords had already used the state law to clear out apartments, including one of the buildings on Newkirk's block, according to city records.

More rent-controlled buildings are being demolished to make way for pricier housing
[Ben Poston and Andrew Khouri/LA Times]

Under the new measure, the city can impound homeless people's "excess personal property" after providing 24 hours' notice. The measure defines that as "personal property that cumulatively exceeds the amount of property that could fit in a 60-gallon container with the lid closed."

The city will store these items for 90 days, during which time the owners can claim them. But they cannot evade further confiscation by moving the items to another public area, the ordinance says.

With no advance warning, the city can seize and impound a tent that has not been taken down during the day.

L.A. council OKs law limiting homeless people's belongings to what can fit in a trash bin
[Gale Holland/LA Times]

Between 1996 and 2011, even as the welfare rolls were shrinking and more one-time recipients were moving to work, extreme poverty was increasing. During that time, the number of families living on $2 a day or less rose 150 percent, to 1.65 million.

Living in extreme poverty has very real consequences for families, Shaefer said. Reduced TANF access in states is associated with higher food insecurity, increased child homelessness, a jump in foster-care placement, and more juvenile detention, according to soon-to-be-published research by Shaefer and colleagues. Not having access to cash means people can't pay the rent and then become homeless, and homelessness leads to stress, which can hurt people emotionally and physically. Families are often forced to sell their food stamps, their plasma, their bodies, to get access to cash to survive on, he said.

Welfare reform had big goals of moving people to self-sufficiency by training them to work. But it did little to create job opportunities or the types of programs that help people stay in jobs once they get them. Instead, they're on their own.

The End of Welfare as We Know It
[Alana Semuels/The Atlantic]