Legalize Sleep

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Demonstrators on the steps at Pershing Square.

There were a number of actions planned for this weekend to coincide with Martin Luther King’s birthday. I had heard that Black Lives Matter was holding a vigil downtown, and so I hopped on the Red Line and got off at Civic Center. But it turned out the vigil was over, and so I was standing there on First Street wondering what to do next. ¬†Fortunately, I ended up running into a group of people who were demonstrating to protect the rights of the homeless. They were marching through downtown on their way to Pershing Square. I met up with them when they made a stop on Fifth Street.

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The group stops to hear a speaker on Fifth Street.

One of the major points the speakers made is that our government is trying to control and restrict the use of public space. This affects the homeless in that they aren’t allowed to sleep in parks or on sidewalks, but really it affects all of us. Public space is an essential part of civic life. Our elected officials are putting more and more restrictions on the way public space is used, often for the benefit of business interests. The whole idea of public space is that it’s for everyone, not just those that our elected officials deem worthy.

The reason that homeless people end up sleeping in parks is they have nowhere else to go. The Mayor and the City Council are bending over backwards to help developers build luxury residential towers, while affordable housing gets harder and harder to find. Affordable units are being demolished or converted to condos so that property owners can make an even bigger profit. This will only increase the number of people living on the streets.

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Protesters walking through Pershing Square.

So you’ve been kicked out of your apartment because the landlord hit you with a huge rent increase. You can’t sleep on the sidewalk. You can’t sleep on bus benches. And you can’t sleep in the parks. Where do you go? Our elected officials don’t seem to care. They’re too busy granting variances for the developers who’ve been giving them campaign cash.

The affordable housing crisis in LA is getting worse. We need to address it. Instead of racing to build high-end residential skyscrapers, we need to be creating housing for all the people of Los Angeles. Everybody deserves a safe place to sleep.

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My favorite slogan from the demonstration.

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