a genealogy of L.A.M.C. 41.18

Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18 is an anti-camping ordinance that targets people who are poor and unhoused by making it illegal to sit, sleep, lie down, or have personal property within designated areas and/or special enforcement zones. Originally enacted in 1963 as an anti-loitering law, 41.18 has expanded the criminalization of homelessness in Los Angeles, especially in encampments, and has disproportionately been used to target, harass, and control Black and brown people in public space. Building upon carceral logics, this racialized banishment and dehumanization makes people’s presence in certain areas illegal, while simultaneously pushing them to other areas and render them invisible.

41.18 has a long history as it sits alongside other municipal ordinances that criminalize homelessness and the presence of poor people in public space such as Los Angeles Municipal Code 56.11 (which regulates the amount of personal property a person can have in public space) and Los Angeles Municipal Code 85.02 (which prohibits vehicle dwelling in many of the places where people can safely park). By examining the genealogy 41.18 and how the ideas of criminalizing the poor and unhoused are constructed, financed, and circulated, it is evident that this law does not exist in a vacuum. It was written and enacted specifically to control public space and the poor and unhoused, especially those without property, who live under the threats of punishment and violence as they systematically are stripped of their basic civil and human rights. These communities experience targeted entrapment, in which law abiding persons are induced to commit a crime that they otherwise would not have committed, simply because they are poor and/or unhoused.

Justifications for these anti-homeless ordinances that give the state authority to do what they want and control people are often centered around arguments on public safety and that unhoused people are service resistant and are unhoused because they want to be. Within expansive regimes of racial banishment, criminalization, police enforcement, service provision, and other forms of state violence and perverse investments in carcerality, the unhoused are subject to a system of permanent displaceability within the cyclical nature of sweeps and failed government response and false promises of housing solutions. The solutions and housing offers provided during 41.18 sweeps can be seen as human caging by another name and the promise of housing itself accompanies the justification for displacement and banishment.

Previously existing unchallenged when they were first created, there have been legal arguments, court rulings, and precedents against these unconstitutional ordinances. Such cases against anti-homelessness ordinances like 41.18 can allow us to challenge constitutionality and the legality of actions that are taken against the unhoused and the poor. Here are some examples on how these anti-homeless ordinances have been challenged in court, and how despite previous iterations of these laws being ruled unconstitutional, they are continuously reinvented and relentlessly expanded upon.

the legal challenges to anti-homeless ordinances

Jones vs. City of Los Angeles (2006) - In 2003, the ACLU of Southern California and the National Lawyers Guild filed a case on behalf of an unhoused man named Edward Jones. In 2006, Jones v. The City of Los Angeles came before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that 41.18(d) was a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Per the decision, 41.18(d) was unconstitutional so long as no adequate shelter existed. Homeless people could not be punished solely for having nowhere else to go. In the resulting settlement in 2007, Los Angeles agreed not to enforce 41.18 until they had provided 1,250 units of permanent public housing and the city is legally restricted insofar as when and why they are able to enforce the law. Despite this victory, this decision has been circumvented by the Los Angeles City Council through a new iteration of the 41.18 law, which creates specific zones of enforcement and couples sweeps with offers to temporary carceral shelters.

Martin vs. City of Boise (2018) - Filed by six homeless people in 2009 and finally decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018, Martin v. Boise ruled unconstitutional an anti-camping law similar to 41.18 in Boise, Idaho that banned individuals from sleeping on any public space. Like the Jones decision, Martin v. Boise ruled based on the Eighth Amendment, this time arguing that anti-camping ordinances are unconstitutional if there are not enough beds available to shelter everyone. In 2019, the US Supreme Court decided against an appeal of Martin v. Boise, which means that it remains as a precedent in each state within the Ninth Court’s jurisdiction (including the Western US, Alaska, and Hawaii). As such, this ruling made enforcing 41.18 in Los Angeles a legal risk, despite the city having allegedly met previously agreed-upon requirements. However, with workarounds, alterations and revisions to 41.18, Los Angeles was able to circumvent this ruling and maintain compliance by providing specific details on where a homeless person can legally sleep and sit overnight rather than a blanket ban (which would be unconstitutional).

Garcia vs. City of Los Angeles (2021) - A group of unhoused people -- including Aetna resident Janet Garcia -- sued the city of Los Angeles for destroying their private property that was stored in public under LA Municipal Code 56.11. After a preliminary injunction in 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court affirmed the injunction and barred the city of Los Angeles from destroying unhoused people’s property on the basis that these items are “bulky.” According to Judge David A. Ezra, such property destruction constitutes a violation of the constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition of unlawful seizures. As such, 56.11’s application has been constrained and modified due to legal battles like Garcia v. City of Los Angeles.


The use of subversive ethnographies and counter mapping allows us to study the impact, nature, and culture of 41.18 zones, intended to destroy unhoused communities, through storytelling and digital archiving. We are seeking to expose true actors and forces involved in the criminalization of unhoused communities through counter mapping, providing those who’ve been negatively impacted by 41.18 the opportunity to speak out and be heard. Oftentimes maps and official records appear as hostile, lacking and seemingly detached from the human experiences and voices of those on the ground being impacted by such laws and ordinances. Mapping can be seen as a form of activism against dominant power structures.

In this context, our subversive ethnographies map exists as a tool to digitally archive community experiences with anti-homelessness ordinances and events in relation to geographic space in Los Angeles specifically. Beyond typical ethnographic research and documentation, subversive ethnographies directly challenge existing state systems, actors, and institutions that criminalize homelessness. It is through such means that we can uncover a community’s timeline that reasserts strategies of survival, resistance, and mutual aid.

theoretical frameworks

Rebel Archives - The unhoused are the historians of 41.18, and we’re seeking to make visible the stories of those who are often neglected and made invisible. We’re highlighting how unhoused community members incorporate the purpose of building power, specifically through the refusal of illegality.

Theorizing from Below - Compared to the official records of 41.18 which support a state narrative, theorizing from below allows us to document and reassert a people’s record, rejecting a state timeline that has claimed to make “progress” on homelessness in Los Angeles.

Gilda Haas - Mapping (In)Justice - By following and mapping the money, power, actors and possibilities related to 41.18 in Los Angeles, popular education can provide communities with the knowledge, information, and critical conversations to address anti-homeless ordinances like 41.18.

Trespassing on the Law - Experiences of the unhoused with the law can be used as a tactic to articulate an argument around their rights and the protections that are necessary. In “Trespassing on the Law,” Kusiak argues that legal geographers' knowledge on the nature of law and its relations with society is a source of power that could allow them to set legal agendas and pluralize legal discussions. Beyond 41.18 co-opts the legitimacy provided by the legal system lending it to the agendas that are otherwise perceived as “too radical.”

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