Taxpayer Dollars Being Used to Fight for Homeless People Living in Illegally Parked Vehicles

By Matt Cover | January 21, 2011 | 9:19 AM EST

( – The taxpayer-funded Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is suing the city over its efforts to bar homeless people from illegally living in campers, trailers, and cars on the streets of the city’s Venice neighborhood.

Some homeless people say they’re being targeted because of who they are. “Stop the haters,” said one protest sign carried by a homeless man in Venice during a protest march in December.

In the past few years, a growing number of homeless people have gathered in the beach town of Venice, parking their cars and motor homes on city streets and prompting protest from residents concerned about noise and sanitation.

In response, local officials proposed a Vehicles to Homes program in which homeless people who want help will be assigned a safe, legal place to park while efforts begin to find them a home.

But LAFLA contends that program isn’t working, and it is suing the city to stop law enforcement from fining the homeless, contending that in certain cases, the police have gone too far in their efforts to clean up the area.

LAFLA is primarily funded by the Legal Services Corporation, a taxpayer-funded non-profit entity created by Congress.

In a November 2010 press release announcing the lawsuit, LAFLA attorney Susan Millman said the City of Los Angeles was engaged in a “misguided and illegal police crackdown, resulting in additional misery to poor and disabled people who have no other place to go.

“LAPD is chasing homeless people from Venice to some other community, and wasting huge sums that could be used to help,” Millman said.

Carol Sobel, a civil rights lawyer who has partnered with LAFLA in suing the city, told that Los Angeles is trying to push the homeless out of “any community in which a few of them gather. They started downtown and now they’re working on Venice – in between as well.”

A key element of the LAFLA lawsuit is the handicap parking tags that many homeless people have on their cars and campers.

“One tactic they (police) chose – which is the tactic we’re challenging in this lawsuit – is to cite them for every potential parking violation. The problem being that most of the people – all of the people we represent in this case – are disabled and have valid [handicap] plates on their vehicles or disability placards. I think almost all of them have plates, front and back, indicating that the vehicle is operated by a disabled individual. So under California law, in the vehicle code, if you have a valid disability plate or placard, you don’t have to put money in the [parking meter], you don’t get a ticket if the meter’s expired, you can park in a place that limits parking,” she explained.

The lawsuit specifically cites the Vehicles to Homes initiative of L.A. Councilman Bill Rosendahl: “To date, the program and services have not been forthcoming, but the punitive enforcement mechanism is. Indeed, this may be the City’s tactic: to arrest and banish in order to reduce the need and demand for services for homeless individuals,” the lawsuit says.

Rosendahl spokesman Tony Arranaga told that the councilman is continuing to push for his Vehicles to Homes initiative. Arranga said the councilman’s intent is to “keep moving forward” despite the LAFLA lawsuit.

Rosendahl, in a January 10 press release addressing his initiative, said that restricting where the homeless can live in their cars while also helping them get off the streets is “the right thing to do.”

“We cannot ignore this enormous social problem of people living in their vehicles,” Rosendahl said. “These two simultaneous efforts – restricting parking for oversized vehicles, and launching a program to help people find safe, legal parking and eventually a home – are parts of a comprehensive and balanced strategy.

“On one hand, we are stepping up enforcement, and on the other hand, we are offering help to those who need it.”