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The law was struck down prohibiting people from living in vehicles in Los Angeles
by Lynda Carson (tenantsrule [at] )
Friday Jun 20th, 2014 11:59 PM
In the case Desertrain v. City of Los Angeles, the court sent a strong message all across the nation that cities cannot end homelessness, by making homelessness illegal with egregious city laws that essentially make it impossible for homeless people to survive by staying in their vehicles!
The law was struck down prohibiting people from living in vehicles in Los Angeles

By Lynda Carson - June 20, 2014

On June 19, 2014, an insidious law used by the cops in Los Angeles to harass and criminalize homeless people for sleeping in their vehicles and using their vehicles as "living quarters," has been struck down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court.

In the case Desertrain v. City of Los Angeles, the court sent a strong message all across the nation that cities cannot end homelessness, by making homelessness illegal with egregious city laws that essentially make it impossible for homeless people to survive by staying in their vehicles.

For years, it has been a common practice for homeless people to use their vehicles as a form of shelter when necessary. Whether it is due to a lack of money, or dire circumstances that leave them little choice but to sleep in their vehicles when the City they reside in does not offer them any other decent options, living out of a vehicle is an alternative to staying in brutal homeless shelters, or sleeping on the sidewalks, or under the bushes, or other unsafe places.

In 1983, the City of Los Angeles enacted Municipal Code Section 85.02 to attack it's homeless population, making it illegal for people to use their vehicles as "living quarters" either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise while the vehicle was parked on City streets, City owned parking lots, and parking lots owned or under the control of the Los Angeles County of Beaches and Harbors.

During the week of September 23, 2010, Los Angeles officials created the Venice Homelessness Task Force, that included 21 cops who had orders to use Section 85.02 to cite and arrest homeless people for using their automobiles as "living quarters." The cops were also supposed to hand out information to people about providers of shelters and other social services.

A number of brave souls including Cheyenne Desertrain, Steve Jacobs-Elstein, Bradford Echhart, Patricia Warivonchik, Leroy Butler, William Cagle, and Chris Taylor fought back against the insidious anti-homeless laws of Los Angeles that discriminated against homeless people, and as a result the court struck down the law that made it illegal for homeless people to use their vehicles as "living quarters" in the City, and County of Los Angeles.

Some of the people being arrested in Los Angeles for using their vehicles as "living quarters" while being homeless and had their vehicles impounded, included one person who had congestive heart failure, and another that had epilepsy. And yet another was an individual that suffered from severe anxiety and depression after losing his own legal temp business company that he had for almost ten years, and he also lost his home during bad economic times. One of the people were caught using a cell phone while sitting in his car, and others were found to have food in their vehicles which the cops used as a pretext to accuse them of living in their vehicles, and then arrested them and impound their cars.

The cops were instructed to look for vehicles containing possessions normally found in a home, such as food, bedding, clothing, medicine, and basic necessities people need to survive.

The brave souls that fought back against the insidious law that prohibited the use of vehicles as 'living quarters" in Los Angeles argued that Section 85.02 is unconstitutionally vague on its face because it provides insufficient notice of the conduct it penalizes and promotes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. The court agreed with them.

In conclusion, the court believes that Section 85.02 provides inadequate notice of the unlawful conduct it proscribes, and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor. Accordingly, Section 85.02 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendent as an unconstitutionally vague statute.

The court further believes that for many homeless people, their automobile may be their last major possession - the means by which they can look for work and seek social services. The City of Los Angeles has many options at it's disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of it's homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.

The criminalization of the poor and the homeless in the U.S. is cruel and inhumane. Other attacks on the poor and the homeless include the notorious sit/lie laws in San Francisco and the attempt to create such vicious laws in the City of Berkeley.

Sleeping bans exist in Santa Cruz, San Diego, and St. Petersburg, FL., under the guise of "no camping laws." Some cities prohibit the sharing of food to homeless populations unless you have a permit, and many cities refuse to grant permits to feed the poor and homeless people in their communities.

In Orlando, FL., people from Food Not Bombs have been arrested and sent away to jail for feeding the poor and homeless, and the volunteers of Food Not Bombs have been harassed and arrested in San Francisco for the same activities, in recent past years.

Laws against panhandling are another attack on the poor and homeless in many cities, and are cruel and inhumane treatment against many citizens across the nation.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at]

Comments  (Hide Comments)

While the Desertrain et al v. Los Angeles et al 9th Circuit appellate ruling is a welcome step forward for civil rights, my understanding is that the court did NOT rule affirmatively for the right to sleep in cars. They ruled on STUFF in cars; which is why, during oral argument, the judges hammered LA with stuff-centric hypotheticals, e.g. what about a family, moving (belongings in RV), stopping at the beach, or a stop sign. That is why the 9th used void for vagueness to overrule the lower court, admonishing LEO for targetted homeless people with stuff in cars.

A 9th appellate decision can be cited by any other case in the Federal 9th Circuit. Other Circuits can refer to the ruling but it is NOT binding in any other circuit. If LA appeals to the Federal Supreme Court, a Supreme Court ruling would be binding for the entire country. Let's hope LA appeals and loses (again)!

In the decision, there is mention of the legality of sleeping on sidewalks (which is surprising, given Santa Cruz judge Gallagher making a blanket assertion that sleeping ANYWHERE in California is a crime, I wish the 9th ruling on Desertrain v. LA was more detailed and specific on this point), but as far as I can tell, there was NO affirmation of the right to sleep in a vehicle. If anyone can point out where in that decision (or anywhere else) such an affirmation exists, I would be among those VERY happy to know.
by anon
Saturday Jun 21st, 2014 12:20 PM
Check out Seattle's safe parking programs.

Not only can one live in their car, one can park overnight in a safe place.

by Peter Fragen
Saturday Jun 21st, 2014 3:29 PM
It's astounding there even WAS a law against sleeping or EATING in your OWN car in Los Angeles. So obviously INHUMANE. Also, the height of IGNORANCE. People who come up with these EXCUSES for laws, must be justifying them by saying to themselves that homeless people have a CHOICE and are LAZY, and deserve to be homeless for some reason. NO - IT'S NOT TRUE. And you KNOW IT. A CERTAIN PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION WILL EXCEL in our society and A CERTAIN PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION WILL LOSE THE GAME....NO MATTER WHAT THE GAME IS.....and these days, the game is MORE SKEWED THAN EVER, TOWARD THE incredibly CRUEL to SUPPORT CORPORATE GREED NOW, MORE THAN EVER BEFORE, and then BLAME the people who you STOLE MONEY FROM, and lifted the floor from beneath their very feet, for not "succeeding" and KICK THEM WHILE THEY'RE DOWN. You people are HIDEOUS.
by Curious
Sunday Jun 22nd, 2014 12:10 PM
The court's ruling was also focused on how the ordinance had been enforced. The opinion spoke of policies and procedures that had not been followed. The judges allowed that, if those rules had been followed, the ordinance probably would've withstood constitutional scrutiny. Bottom line: this is not a clear cut ruling banning such ordinances and it does not overturn California's "illegal lodging" law, Penal Code 647(e).
by @
Thursday Jul 3rd, 2014 9:08 AM
void for vagueness doesn't mean much. the gov. can almost always just write a new, less vague law that does the same thing.
these laws need to be challenged on the grounds that making it illegal to sleep, or eat in your car serves no rational legitimate government interest.
how is the public harmed by someone eating in a car?
this decision has put the brakes on palo alto's anti homeless car ordinance.

btw, G who posted above. got a 2 year sentence under pc 647(e) for sleeping in front of the santa cruz courthouse. he even had a sign that said "sleep is not a crime".
by RainyDays
Sunday Jun 14th, 2015 2:10 PM
So what happens if you sleep in your car in Berkeley, or Albany, or ElCerrito. I'm not homeless, but I'm about to be. Even though I work full time, the rent is crazy! And it's going up, and I have to move. Every month I scrimp till the end of the month so I can give all my money to the landlord. If something happens, like needing car repairs, I borrow money and hope nothing else happens before I can pay it back. I'm so sick and tired of it. I'm sick of working all day just to scrape by. So I'm planning to move into my van (nice, clean - not an eyesore). Then I can save that extra money. The only thing is... I'm afraid of interactions with the law! I can't possibly be the only one in Berkeley area who feels this way.