Politics

Los Angeles County Supervisor: Homeless shouldn't be housed in motels that allow prostitution

File: Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks during an election party for newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell on Tuesday night, Nov. 4, 2014 at the JW Marriott at LA Live.
File: Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks during an election party for newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell on Tuesday night, Nov. 4, 2014 at the JW Marriott at LA Live.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A new proposal by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas aims to clean up hotels that temporarily house the homeless by discouraging prostitution - but his proposal includes a controversial element.

"Children as young as twelve years of age are coerced and are sold for sex," Ridley-Thomas said. "In some cases, hotel owners turned a blind eye to this sickening activity."

His proposal would require hotels that receive county funds to house the homeless  - $3.56 million in vouchers last year alone - to agree to anti-prostitution measures. They'd have to display a sex trafficking awareness poster, participate in training to spot sex-trafficking and make hotel guest lists available to law enforcement without a warrant.

That last proposed requirement is controversial.

"I don't think this is a widespread problem," said attorney Frank Weiser.

He represents a group of hotel owners suing the City of Los Angeles over a similar law requiring hotel owners to make guest registers available to the LAPD. The case, City of L.A. v. Patel, goes before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. A number of other local governments have passed similar laws.

A wide range of businesses and groups - from Google to the Electronic Frontier Foundation - have filed briefs with the court in support of the hotel owners' arguments that the law violates privacy rights.

The city has argued that guest lists are often incomplete and when officers take the time to get a warrant, they sometimes disappear.

Weiser was surprised to hear of Ridley-Thomas's proposal. 

"If they want to shut a hotel down, they can easily do it through the courts," Weiser said. "They don't need to be shuffling through people's privacy rights. There are many legal tools."

Ridley-Thomas, however, said the issue needs attention.  

If the board approves his motion, the county's social service department will have 30 days to work out details and enforcement.

"I'm confident the Department of Public Social Services can and should come back to us with an innovative way to house the individuals who deserve to be housed," Ridley-Thomas said. "But not in places where profit is being reaped through exploitation."