By Nick Gerda for LAist

L.A. city officials have for months kept from the public a damning report, ordered by the council, that found a major homelessness enforcement policy championed by several council members has failed in key goals to keep areas clear of encampments and get people housed.

The report looks at one of the city’s most controversial enforcement laws, a rule known as 41.18 zones. Under changes approved in 2021, council members can designate areas in their district where unhoused people cannot sit, lie down, sleep, or keep belongings on sidewalks or other public areas. People are supposed to receive advanced warning and get help finding shelter before encampments are cleared.

The camping ban was viewed by some council members and housing activists as a cruel crackdown that criminalized poverty and put public spaces off limits for people unable to access shelter that’s in short supply. Supporters cheered the change as a step to make schools and other places safer by removing encampments and argued that shelter beds are available.

Nearly a year ago, council members unanimously ordered a report about 41.18, including assessing whether 41.18 was effective at housing people and preventing encampments from returning.

The answer: No.

That was the conclusion of officials at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) who analyzed the data in a report sent to the council’s legislative analyst in November. It was meant to feed into a broader report to the council about 41.18 that is now eight months overdue.

LAHSA’s November report was not shared with several council members — including Nithya Raman, who chairs the housing and homelessness committee — until this week. It still has not been provided to Curren Price, one of the two council members who co-signed the council’s April 2023 directive to generate the report, according to his spokesperson.

Its findings have not been reported publicly until now.

The report, obtained by LAist from a person with access to the document and verified by others with knowledge of it, found that 41.18 failed to keep the vast majority of its areas clear of encampments and was “generally ineffective” at helping people get into housing.

LAist reached out to Mayor Karen Bass’ office and all 15 City Council members for comment.

In a statement Saturday responding to LAist’s reporting, Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez called 41.18 a “complete and total failure.”

“Our office still has not officially received this report, but we know that encampments swept with 41.18 nearly always return, and we spend millions of dollars every year on this ineffective criminalization of homelessness,” he said.

“The city is facing a budget deficit, and we can’t keep lying to the public while spending millions criminalizing homelessness and pushing people from block to block,” he added, saying the city needs to invest in housing.

A spokesperson for Raman said the council’s homelessness committee chair first received a copy of the November report on Wednesday.

“Our team is still going through the data and is not prepared to comment at this time,” Raman’s spokesperson, Stella Stahl, said in a statement.

What the analysis found

The analysis by LAHSA looked at 41.18 operations from December 2021 to November 2023, totaling 174 encampment clear-outs.

Among the report’s key findings, the vast majority of encampments came back:

  • Unhoused people came back at high rates — 81% of encampments had people return who had been there before the clear-out.
  • And nearly all encampments reemerged post clearing, when including people who hadn’t been there before.
  • 94% of people at encampments targeted for removal under 41.18 wanted shelter. Of those, only 18% were able to get it.

For example, at Venice Boulevard and Tuller Avenue, the data show an encampment of 54 people before the operation. Among them, 52 people wanted shelter — but only two people got it, according to the data.

And after the 41.18 operation, 122 people came back at various points, the data show.

“In general, the framework of 41.18 falls short of more effective encampment resolution efforts, such as Inside Safe or other Encampment-to-Home initiatives,” states the report, dated Nov. 28. Inside Safe expands bed capacity so everyone at a particular encampment being cleared has a place to come indoors.

The encampment clearings also can disrupt people’s ability to get shelter, the report adds.

Unhoused people “may move away from the location and providers may lose contact after clients are displaced,” the report states. “Clients may also become distrustful of providers and refuse services after being forced to move from their current location. Encampment clearings can lead to a loss of ID and documentation that are crucial for ongoing services and eventual housing.”

Current and former homelessness officials told LAist the report’s findings underscore that the shortage of shelter and housing is driving the homelessness crisis, and unless that’s dealt with, encampments will keep coming back.


Report was kept in the shadows

The effectiveness report has been kept under wraps from the public for months, until now. One person familiar with the report said there was widespread anxiety and fear about releasing the findings due to concerns it would highlight a lack of progress addressing homelessness.

A report was ordered by the council on April 12 last year after public pressure on the council to study whether 41.18 is working. It was required to be provided to the council within 60 days, by mid-June.

Three hundred twenty four days later, there still is no official report to the council compiling all of the data they requested, including about the financial costs of 41.18.

Key info requested by the council — the LAHSA data analysis — was sent to the council’s legislative analyst, Sharon Tso, in late November. That was over five months after the deadline.

But three months later, there is still no compiled report to the council, which is 264 days overdue. And there’s been no update in the public agenda file about the delay.

Efforts to keep it hidden have reportedly sparked an uproar within city hall.


About the delay

In an interview Friday evening after this article was published, Tso said she didn’t know of any effort to withhold the information the council had requested, which is now over eight months overdue.

She said the information hasn’t been provided because she’s still trying to get questions answered about how LAHSA calculated and portrayed the numbers. But she wouldn’t say what those questions are, nor provide a timeline for when her long-overdue report would be provided to the full council or the public.

She also would not answer repeated questions from LAist about whether some council members asked her to do things that delay the release of this information.

“I am being diligent…That’s all I can tell you,” Tso said. “My conversations with my council members are my conversations.”

Council members haven’t been demanding the information be disclosed immediately, she added.

“There hasn’t been this screaming demand that we need to have something now,” Tso said.

After obtaining a leaked copy of the report, LAist also requested the report directly from LAHSA officials. LAHSA spokespeople, including its head of external relations Paul Rubenstein, did not immediately provide it — despite state law requiring public records be disclosed upon request without delay. Rubenstein is the person listed on the “From” line at the top of the report.


Big enforcement differences among council members

An analysis released last fall by L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia’s office found a wide disparity in how much 41.18 enforcement council members were doing in their districts.

At the top of the list was Councilmember John Lee, who is running for reelection in District 12. Nearly half the 2023 arrests through mid-September were in Lee’s northwest San Fernando Valley district, while it had one the smallest unsheltered populations.

His district had 836 arrests, which is more than three times as many as the second-highest district, Council District 1, represented by Eunisses Hernandez.


A plea months ago for public disclosure

In October, activists with one of L.A.’s leading unhoused advocacy groups filed a written comment with the council wondering why the report was taking so long.

“While this report back is well over 100 days past due, we hope that the City will present their findings soon,” wrote Adam Smith of the LA Community Action Network.

He asked for a special public City Council hearing about the report when it’s turned in.

“Our request,” Smith wrote, “is rooted in a long-standing City Hall precedent for holding hearings that include presentation of data by stakeholders impacted directly by City policy.”

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