By Deborah Lashever
Eden Andes, with slightly silvered hair, medium length, thoughtful look on her sun-drenched face, mischievous smiles illustrating her clever ironic wit, lived in Venice Beach for many years. Intelligent, articulate, peaceful, funny; a visionary, activist, artist, animal lover and friend, she could often be found on Venice Ocean Font Walk in jeans and colorful tee shirts. Some might say she was a bit nondescript outwardly but all would agree inside she was a lioness. For years she decried the injustice of the city’s continued criminalization of homeless people. She knew about it first hand. Eden Andes lived in her van.
Interestingly, the simple act of sleeping in her vehicle thrust Eden into activism. Civil rights attorney, Carol Sobel, maintains that the successful fight in December 2013 against LAMC 85.02, a discriminatory ordinance against sleeping in vehicles, started in 2003 when Eden, faced with a “Stay Away Order” for being cited for sleeping in her vehicle, took a stand and refused to leave Venice, her beloved home.
In a recent April 22 interview, Venice civil rights attorney, John Raphling, who tried Eden’s original case, concurs. “It was a case of ‘well, where do you want her to sleep that she wouldn’t be breaking the law’? This was a woman, by herself, and vulnerable. At least in her vehicle she had a place with four walls that she could lock. It guaranteed a certain degree of safety for her possessions and herself.” At the time Venice was embroiled in a vicious battle between Venetians who understood that for a number of artists, like Eden, sleeping in vehicles was financially necessary, versus wealthier property owners–most of them new to the area–that just wanted them gone.
Sobel successfully argued to have 85.02 overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the groundbreaking case, Desertrain vs the City of Los Angeles. Judge Harry Pregerson stated, “For many homeless persons, their automobile may be their last major possession — the means by which they can look for work and seek social services. The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles….should not be one of those options.”
Raphling also points out that 85.02 raises serious enforcement issues. “Legally we are all guaranteed a certain amount of privacy in our vehicles,” he says, “if laws criminalizing sleeping in vehicles are in place, police would necessarily need access to vehicles to determine if they are being slept in or not and that creates a slippery slope with regard to violations of constitutional rights to privacy and encouraging discriminatory practices by LAPD.”
Earlier this month, City Attorney Mike Feuer penned two amended options for 85.02:
Option 1: No sleeping in any vehicle on any street in Los Angeles 9pm to 6am. $100 first offense, $250 second offense, $1000 and 6 months in jail for number three – with vehicles impounded and since vehicle dwellers are usually unable to afford fees, lost, along with pets and possessions, causing more people to live on sidewalks, unprotected.
Option 2: Same as above, except select non-residential streets would be designated for sleeping in vehicles but only accessed if vehicle dwellers complete the CES (Coordinated Entry System) registration process through already overloaded LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) to obtain permits that must be renewed again and again every few months.
Currently LA city/county is focused upon processing every unhoused person through CES, a data system that gives accesses to all files anywhere in the county. The city and county argue that coordinating this data will streamline people’s access to housing – which would be wonderful except for the problem is that in reality little housing is actually available, and scant functional services are either when compared to LA’s 29,000 unhoused people that were recorded in the recent 2015 Homeless Count. Coordinating data will do nothing to remedy this lack.
In fact, the searing April 2015 report by Miguel A. Santana, City Administrative Officer, reveals that the City of Los Angeles spends more than $100 million a year on homelessness and that, tellingly, $87 million of that is spent on LAPD’s interactions with homeless persons. The city’s focus is clear.
Lack of funding is not the problem. Priorities are. For example, instead of making an inexpensive storage facility available in Venice, an estimate of $500,000 – half a million dollars per year – is spent on forced weekly sweeps, or “clean ups,” to remove belongings of Venice’s homeless people, according to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office recently. That doesn’t leave much money for services people actually need to live with dignity – food, bathrooms, a safe place to sleep, storage, health services, showers, washing machines – and clearly illustrates the city’s favoring of penalization instead of solutions.
As Raphling says, “The City needs to see housing and services as an investment and get away from the staus quo of ticketing and jailing people until they disappear.”
Hopefully with the shock of the new report and the creation of a City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness, priorities will change. When we finally do find a way to honor the dignity of each and every person, Eden Andes would have been the happiest of all. But it will be way too late for Eden. She died riddled with cancer, just short of her 58th birthday, about this time last year, still living in her van in Venice.