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Desperate to get rid of homeless people, some are using prickly plants, fences, barriers

Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- With dirt, they can weigh hundreds of pounds. The makeshift planter boxes are Peter Mozgo's creations -- roughly 140 of them lined up on the sidewalk to prevent homeless people from pitching tents outside his business.

Mozgo acquires the boxes from a Bell Gardens company that imports ginger, paints them firetruck red, pays $120 per cubic yard for dirt and then uses a $900 trailer to haul it all back to his neighborhood on the south end of downtown Los Angeles.

Like many L.A. residents and business owners, the 49-year-old says he is frustrated by the growing homelessness crisis -- and the city's often uneven response to it.

So as the city struggles to clear encampments and get a handle on the trash and chaos that sometimes emanate from them, Mozgo and others increasingly are taking matters into their own hands, putting obstacles in public spaces to protect their homes and businesses. By doing that, they can make homeless people feel unwelcome.

Every day, Mozgo says, he evaluates the condition of South Hope Street between Washington Boulevard and 18th Street: "How many tents do we have today? And who came in? And who moved out? And who flipped my boxes? And who graffiti-ed the front of my work?"

L.A. has struggled to stymie the growing number of obstructions that residents and business owners are creating to target homeless people. There are now about 59,000 people without homes in L.A. County. Within the city of Los Angeles, the population soared 16% this year to more than 36,000 -- the majority of whom are living outdoors on city streets.

 

In parts of South L.A., business owners have built chain link fences around their buildings. Venice has seen a proliferation of sidewalk planters. In Koreatown, orange mesh fences are so common that a Twitter account documenting their existence has sprouted up. Still other Angelenos have taken to planting rosebushes and pointy cactuses in the "furniture zone," the city's designation for the sometimes paved and sometimes grassy area between the sidewalk and street.

That's where obstacles are being placed the most, usually without permission from the city.

"In general, a lot of things people have (put) in the public right of way aren't permitted," said Ted Allen, deputy city engineer.

The Los Angeles City Council recently passed a motion, introduced by President Herb Wesson, that calls on several city agencies "to work together to investigate and remove illegal fencing citywide that restricts free passage in the public right-of-way and report to council on these efforts."

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