- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The early-morning light reveals a no-loitering sign and a half-dozen people sleeping beneath it in tents on the Skid Row sidewalk.

A few men scatter as a police cruiser rolls up. But Glenda Caldwell isn’t stirring from beneath her filthy blankets, sprawled beside a shopping cart filled with crumpled cans and paper.

“Where do you want me to pack up and go?” Miss Caldwell bellows at the two officers and their sergeant.

A beefed-up police force has been arresting people who violate a daytime sidewalk-sleeping ban since the beginning of this month. Critics deride the sidewalk-sleeping ban as overzealous, but police Chief William Bratton insists it’s a way to salvation for Skid Row.

Enforcing the sidewalk-sleeping ordinance is a stark change for a neighborhood where police traditionally have tried to contain crime from spreading, not stop it. The ordinance is considered one of the most restrictive in the nation and has drawn fire from homeless advocates and their allies.

“L.A. remains the only city in the U.S. whose answer to homelessness is to criminalize being poor,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has sued to stop the city from enforcing the ordinance. “A program that relies on criminalization isn’t going to solve any of the social problems.”

More than 200 of the nation’s 250 largest cities have ordinances prohibiting sidewalk sleeping, sitting and loitering, according to a study by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

With 50 new foot-patrol officers redeployed to Skid Row, Mr. Bratton’s Safer City Initiative attempts to improve an area he calls the worst open-air drug market in the country. By enforcing minor crimes, police will erode a long-accepted feeling of lawlessness, he said. Police arrested about 600 people for drug-selling in the first week of the initiative.

“We’re not here to cure homelessness,” said police Capt. Andrew Smith, who is based in Skid Row. “We’re here to … end what some call a Mardi Gras of crack here, where it’s almost a free zone of dope and prostitution and aggravated assaults.”

Homeless rights groups and the ACLU, which sued the city in 2003, decry the policy of moving the homeless from sidewalks as mean-spirited. A federal appeals court sided with the ACLU in April, classifying enforcement of the ordinance as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

Mr. Bratton and others signed off on a proposed agreement that would have allowed overnight sidewalk sleeping but prohibited it during the day and within 10 feet of a business or residential entrance at all times.

The City Council rejected the settlement last month, fearing it was too sweeping and would let the ACLU make similar arguments elsewhere in the city.

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