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'The citation doesn't really make a difference' | Los Angeles councilwoman shares insight on curbing Spokane's homelessness crisis

KREM 2 recently sat down with Nithya Raman, a Los Angeles councilwoman from District 4 to see if the California city's model is making a difference.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The city of Spokane is moving forward with its plan to curb homelessness. City council members are currently considering stricter camping laws in certain areas of the city, such as parks and the downtown area.

On several occasions, the city of Spokane has heard the model in Los Angeles, Calif. could be a good one to follow.

KREM 2 recently sat down with Nithya Raman, a Los Angeles councilwoman from District 4 to see if the California city's model is making a difference.

Nithya Raman

I wasn't really involved in politics before, you know. I was just a mom of young kids and a volunteer in my neighborhood. But really what I wanted to see was policy from the city that effectively brought an end to homelessness for the people I saw in my own neighborhood who were living in tents, in places that I hadn't really seen tents before.

Whitney Ward

So one of the things that they've been doing here in Spokane is starting to figure out where they want to restrict people's ability to camp. LA has been trying to do some of that as well. Do you find that that is working? Or is it pushing the homeless population into just other areas?

Nithya Raman

I have seen very, very mixed results. Sometimes you see a 'No camping' sign with tents right underneath it. Sometimes you see a 'No camping' sign with tents that are exactly 500 feet away from it. So to me, none of these laws around where people can and cannot camp are really going to be that effective. It's really going to be what I call the sidewalk shuffle. You know, it's just shuffling people from one sidewalk to another, but not really ending the condition that is leading them to be on the streets in the first place.

Whitney Ward

What does enforcement look like now that the rules there have gotten stricter?

Nithya Raman

What they're doing is they're not making arrests when they're doing enforcement, they're issuing citations. And for some people, the citation has the impact of encouraging them to move. And for others, the citation doesn't really make a difference.

Whitney Ward

Is it safe to say that, even though the rules and the ordinances have gotten stricter, it hasn't necessarily translated to a big improvement in the homeless camping on the street?

Nithya Raman

In my opinion, I would say they haven't. And I think we've had experience now with about 100 sites where they have restricted camping and not seen significant changes in many of those sites.

Whitney Ward

Are there instances where they do sweep through the camps to say that, 'Hey, you cannot be here,' or has that largely gone away?

Nithya Raman

If no housing is provided, sometimes within a matter of hours, sometimes after a couple of days, the tents come right back. Because individuals don't have anywhere else to go.

Whitney Ward

What do you think is working in LA and what do you think is not working when it comes to holistically tackling the homeless crisis?

Nithya Raman

If you give someone a room with a door, they say yes to that. Anytime we can get more housing, whether it looks like Project rooms, key hotel rooms, it can look like tiny homes, whenever we have access to more beds, more housing, we're able to get people off the streets.

Whitney Ward

What are some of the missteps that a place like Spokane could learn from?

Nithya Raman

Los Angeles is unique in many ways because it's so big. And our homelessness crisis is so large, but there are a number of smaller and medium-sized cities that have been able to take real steps toward addressing homelessness. What we didn't do is something that cities that are new to the crisis of homelessness can do, which is to invest in housing and shelter early, make sure that you're building the kinds of beds and units that can really help people move off the streets. If you are able to get more people indoors, you will see a difference on your city streets and I think your city can see that same difference.

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