Society is responsible for homelessness to a large extent – by allowing rampant development, ill-advised zoning, gentrification, and other factors that have driven up housing costs to obscene levels in many large urban areas of the country. That same society is also determined to criminalize homelessness.

Since the United States refuses to address the problem in a country where there are three empty homes for every homeless person, it does its level best to sweep the problem under the rug. Case in point: Los Angeles, where costs for housing are among the highest in the nation.

Recently, an attempt by the City of Los Angeles to prohibit the homeless from sleeping in their vehicles was struck down in court. The ordinance, which would have made it much easier to dismantle camps and confiscate what little property the homeless own, was found unconstitutional. Furthermore, the unsuccessful defense of the lawsuit cost the taxpayers of Los Angeles $1.1 million. It makes one wonder how many homeless people could have been put into housing for that amount.

In any event, despite warnings from legal advocates for the homeless that such laws will continue to be found unconstitutional, the City is pushing ahead with new ordinances that would severely restrict where homeless people are allowed to park their vehicles – including motor homes.The latest proposal would make it illegal for anyone to live or stay in their vehicles between 9 PM and 6 AM in residential areas, and at any time if they are within one block of a public school or park.

Their only alternative would be to park in industrial or commercial zones. Unfortunately, those areas are rarely safe or quite. On any given night, as many as 9,500 people in Los Angeles wind up spending the night in their vehicles. These individuals are constantly searching for areas of the city that are relatively safe. That usually means a residential neighborhood.

Violators of the new ordinance – should it become law – would receive an initial warning for the first violation. A second violation would incur a $25 fine, which doubles for the second violation. Subsequent violations would be cited at $75 per occurrence. And if these fines aren’t paid, one can only imagine that the state will be housing the homeless in a jail cell at the taxpayer’s expense.

Naturally, homeowners and residents aren’t keen on the idea of seeing often run-down and dilapidated cars and RVs parked on their streets. In communications to the City Council, they claim that motor homes in particular are a magnet for crime and that the occupants commonly dump their garbage and even their sewage in the street. Of course, they’re not offering any solutions, except to allow the homeless to camp out in noisy, often dangerous industrial and commercial neighborhoods.

No doubt, this new ordinance will be challenged in court as well – and ultimately, the City of Los Angels will wind up spending another million dollars or more defending itself. That’s a million dollars that could have been better spent elsewhere – such as providing actual homes for the homeless, as has been done in Salt Lake City and other places.

But then, Los Angeles was never big on compassion.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.