When Los Angeles officials tossed millions of citations and warrants in early October, they hailed it as a boon for homeless people. They said the purge would “unclog” the court system and stop the cycle of debt and arrests that has made it harder for the poorest Angelenos to land jobs and housing. Weeks after the announcement by City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. County Dist. Attorney Jackie Lacey and Police Chief Michel Moore, it has become clear that their amnesty program is unlikely to lead to a total end to criminal consequences for low-level offenses by people who live outdoors, The Los Angeles Times reports. Moore said his department has no plans to quit writing citations for minor “quality of life” violations, such as leaving a tent in a public space during the day. The decision does not cover citations and warrants issued in the past five years — a period in which homelessness exploded 34 percent, stranding 59,000 county residents in cars, shelters and encampments, including 36,000 who live in the city.
Judges will continue to issue bench warrants and $300 “civil assessments” for homeless people who don’t pay citations or show up in court. Warrants for scofflaws helped drive the LAPD’s homeless arrests up 31 percent from 2011 to 2016, and paying for tickets or appearing in court remains out of reach for most homeless people. Some 90 percent of homeless people cited in the last quarter of 2017 were no-shows. “People who are trying just to survive, without either housing or transportation, are rarely able to appear on citations,” said retired UCLA law Prof. Gary Blasi. “That means every citation given to a homeless person is likely to eventually result in an arrest…. Even one night in jail often results in a person losing everything they own and any place they had in temporary housing.”