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September 29, 2017

L.A. activists tell city officials to make shelter and sanctuary real

by Val Carlson

Los Angeles protest against Mayor Garcetti

The petition drive for sanctuary and shelter for all struck a chord with those who believe that immigrants and the homeless deserve freedom from want, insecurity, and fear. The call resonated with labor unions, community organizations, and the media. It also likely moved the L.A. City Council to announce that it would bring a sanctuary city resolution to its September 8 meeting – the same day as the campaign’s press conference at City Hall East.

The September 8th press conference concluded a six-month petition drive that collected over 1200 signatures, largely from community and union meetings and a variety of marches and demonstrations. The petition implored Mayor Garcetti and the L.A. City Council to take immediate action to make sanctuary for immigrants a reality by designating all city libraries, park and recreation facilities, social service offices and government buildings to be safe places where Homeland Security and ICE cannot enter or harass immigrants. The petition also demanded that the city declare a homeless state of emergency and open its vacant buildings and properties for homeless shelters and encampments and provide restrooms, garbage pickup and other survival services at each location.

Until the recent resurgence of immigrant youth protesting Trump’s plan to overturn DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), many people believed that L.A. was already an official sanctuary city that could protect immigrants from ICE raids and detentions. Likewise, many people assumed that ballot initiatives giving billions of bond and tax dollars to L.A. city and county governments to build supportive housing for the homeless, would help solve the homelessness crisis. Instead, the public witnessed more ICE roundups of immigrants and increasing numbers of people living on the streets.

The press conference attracted major TV and radio stations and was covered by CBS 2, KTLA 5 and the L.A. Times. Following the media event, a delegation delivered the petitions to the Mayor’s Office. Another delegation inside council chambers presented the petitions to the City Council.

Hold Mayor Garcetti and the City Council accountable

Speakers exposed the City’s lip-service to immigrants and the homeless. In her opening remarks, Mary Ann Curtis said:

We will not stand by while ICE rounds up immigrants, and the homeless are left to die in the streets. Both populations are treated like criminals and both face insurmountable obstacles in finding shelter and housing in this city! We are calling on city officials to live up to their responsibilities to care for and defend the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.

Wendy Gaitor, dedicated to helping homeless women get supportive services and housing, spoke on behalf of the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition (DWAC). She strongly advocated for sharing resources to help get people off the streets. “Now is the time to take a stand and [declare] the state of emergency to uphold our blessings and our liberty and our constitution.”

Thelmy Perez, L.A. Community Action Network (CAN) advocate for rent control and public housing, called on the city to use its own buildings and properties to make sanctuary and safe spaces real for immigrants and the homeless.

Karla Alegria, Freedom Socialist Party Organizer, emphasized that the government is responsible for providing quality shelter and basic necessities to all homeless people until stable housing is available. Blacks, many of whom are immigrants, are hit hardest. “Everyone deserves a safe space to call home.”

Harriet Newton, speaking on behalf of the Executive Board of AFSCME California Retiree Chapter 36, underscored that:

Los Angeles is a city in crisis: homelessness is a dire problem for men, women and children; our huge immigrant population lives in fear of leaving their homes. The basic democratic and constitutional rights of L.A’s immigrants and the homeless are being violated, and they are in a life-and-death struggle for survival.

The press conference was sponsored by the Freedom Socialist Party and endorsed by AFSCME District Council 36; AFSCME Local 2626, Librarians’ Guild; AFSCME Retiree Chapter 36; Downtown Women’s Action Coalition (DWAC); Free Association of Anarchists (FAA); Gender Justice L.A.; L.A. Community Action Network (CAN); National Lawyers Guild, L.A. Chapter; 9 to 5, Women’s Leadership Project; Working Women’s Association; Radical Women; Roofers Local 36; SEIU Local 721; and Union del Barrio.

Media event winds up petition drive, but the struggle goes on

The fight for sanctuary and shelter for all continues. There will be committee hearings in the near future on the sanctuary city resolution proposed by Councilmembers Cedillo and Wesson. On September 27, 2017, L.A. Controller Ron Galperin urged the city to use city land for emergency campgrounds and shelters and provide showers, bathrooms, and storage facilities. If you would like to join in ongoing efforts on these issues, please contact the FSP at fspla@earthlink.net.