US court strikes down Los Angeles ban on living in cars

WASHINGTON (TIP): A US appeals court struck down on June 19 a Los Angeles city ordinance that bars people from living in their cars, describing the rule as cryptic and saying that it has been used to discriminate against the poor and homeless.

The ruling overturned a 2011 lower court decision in a lawsuit brought by a group including four homeless people who parked in the city’s Venice district and were cited and arrested under the ordinance, which prohibits the use of vehicles as living quarters.

Calling the ban a “broad and cryptic statute” that criminalized innocent behavior, the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals said it was unconstitutional because it gave insufficient notice of the conduct it penalized and promoted discrimination against the homeless. “Arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is exactly what has occurred here,” the court said in its ruling.

Tens of thousands of transients are thought to look for somewhere to sleep every night in the city. Many are drawn to bohemian, beachside Venice, and in 2010 the Los Angeles Police Department created the Venice Homelessness Task Force. The court said its 21 officers used the ordinance, which dates from 1983, to cite and arrest homeless people living in cars, as well as providing them with information about shelters and other social services.

Among the plaintiffs was Steve Jacobs-Elstein, who ran his own legal company before losing his business and home in 2007. Suffering from anxiety and depression, he was living in his SUV, moving between private parking lots, when he was cited in 2010 by the LAPD as he sat in the car on a Venice street waiting to volunteer at a church soup kitchen. A few weeks later, he was arrested and his car impounded.

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