Nicolas Gutierrez III

Nicolas Gutierrez III is a second-year master’s student in the Criminal Justice and Criminology program. As Dr. Welsh Carroll’s graduate research assistant, he has presented study findings at multiple conferences as a co-presenter and in a forthcoming manuscript as a co-author. His research focuses on the criminalization of poverty and homelessness, racialized policing, and community mobilization. He earned a B.A. in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of California, Irvine. Nicolas has also been designated a Sally Casanova Scholar through the California State University Pre-Doctoral Program.

Community Responses to City-Sanctioned Homeless Encampment Sweeps in Los Angeles, CA (Master’s Thesis)

The City of Los Angeles is home to over 41,000 individuals experiencing homelessness, forming one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. Nearly 70% of unhoused individuals stay in places not meant for sleeping, such as vehicles, tents, and makeshift shelters (LAHSA, 2020). A recent increase in the unsheltered homeless population across the city has prompted attempts to control their visibility, including a 2021 anti-camping ordinance passed by the LA City Council that bans sitting, sleeping, lying down, and storing property in the public right-of-way throughout the city. City agencies have also ramped up homeless encampment sweeps in which occupants are evicted from their makeshift shelters and given limited opportunity to secure their belongings before they are impounded and/or destroyed. Encampment sweeps have literally become a matter of life and death due to the loss of life-sustaining items like medicine as well as the use of heavy and dangerous machinery like bulldozers. Some community members—housed and unhoused—have deemed the city’s current encampment management practices inhumane and taken it upon themselves to resist the harmful effects of sweeps through sweep blockades, community cleanups, and other forms of mutual aid.

The purpose of this study is to explore the lived experiences of encampment residents and homeless advocates with city-sanctioned sweeps and community-organized responses. I will conduct structured interviews with approximately 30 adults who self-identify as currently living in a homeless encampment, having lived in an encampment in the past, and/or engaging in homeless advocacy in Los Angeles. The interviews will focus on participants’ current living and housing circumstances; interactions with outreach workers and law enforcement; experiences during sweeps and community responses; and organizing activities like the coordination of mutual aid actions. The interview findings will inform recommendations to improve current homeless encampment management and service provision practices by Los Angeles and similar cities, with the aim of promoting humane and equitable responses that can enhance the quality of life for the unhoused.