Los Angeles panel proposes homelessness emergency, funds

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

How the Los Angeles’ homeless crisis got so bad.

LOS ANGELES — It’s no secret to people who walk or drive the streets of Los Angeles that homeless people — tens of thousands of them — are everywhere.

That’s a question many are asking as Los Angeles elected leaders on Tuesday said they would declare a “state of emergency” on the growing homelessness problem and commit $100 million toward housing and other services for homeless people. On Tuesday, having looked at numbers showing the city’s homeless population has increased more than 10 percent over the past two years, officials announced they have decided enough is enough. Declaring the growing homeless population a public emergency, the Los Angeles City Council is planning to spend US$100 million to help get people off the streets. (New York Times photo) LOS ANGELES — Flooded with homeless encampments from its freeway underpasses to the chic sidewalks of Venice Beach, municipal officials here declared a public emergency on Tuesday, making Los Angeles the first city in the United States to take such a drastic step in response to its mounting problem with street dwellers.

The move stems partly from compassion, and in no small part from the rising tide of complaints about the homeless and the public nuisance they create. National experts on homelessness say Los Angeles has had a severe and persistent problem with people living on the streets rather than in shelters — the official estimate is 26,000.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and several other elected officials stood outside City Hall – a few feet from several homeless people dozing on a lawn – to announce they plan to declare a state of emergency on homelessness and spend $100 million to eradicate it. “These are our fellow Angelenos,” the mayor said. “They are those who have no other place to go, and they are literally here where we work, a symbol of our city’s intense crisis.” Six blocks away, on the city’s Skid Row, thousands more live permanently in tents, makeshift cardboard shelters and sometimes just on the sidewalk itself. “If you walk five blocks south and one block over, you’ll enter the largest concentration of homeless in the country – about 4,000 homeless living in Skid Row,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, who co-chairs the City Council’s homelessness & poverty committee. Officials didn’t say exactly where the money will come from, but Council President Herb Wesson promised it would be found “somehow, some way.” Huizar spokesman Rick Coca said afterward that officials anticipate it will come from the city’s general fund, adding “a more robust financial forecast for the city” is anticipated in the months ahead. Garcetti had already announced plans Monday to release nearly $13 million in such newly anticipated excess tax revenue for short-term housing initiatives.

They point to gentrification downtown and in Venice, where cheap hotel rooms, motels and single-room apartments — once the last refuge of the poor — are being eliminated. Alice Callaghan, a longtime advocate for the homeless on Skid Row, said the proposed funding would not be nearly enough to stop the loss of affordable housing, especially in rapidly gentrifying areas of downtown and on the city’s west side. In places known for good weather like Honolulu and Tucson, Arizona, or for liberal politics — like Madison, Wisconsin — frustration has prompted crackdowns on large encampments. Skid Row itself has been touched in recent years by that gentrification as aging hotels and abandoned buildings have been turned into expensive lofts, condos and apartments.

Upscale coffee shops and restaurants now compete for space with homeless shelters and flophouses on the area’s 50 square blocks. “A hundred million dollars won’t even buy all the homeless pillows,” Callaghan said, contrasting LA’s proposal with New York City’s $41 billion affordable housing plan unveiled last year. “A hundred million certainly won’t build much housing — and what we really have here is a housing crisis.” Experts blame that crisis on several factors, including the long recession, the city’s gentrification and its rapidly rising rents and home prices. The study said people from many systems, including those dealing with disability, mental health, foster care and criminal justice, fed into the homelessness pipeline. Earlier this year, a study by the city’s top budget official found Los Angeles already spends $100 million a year to deal with homelessness — much of it on arrests and other police services —but its departments have no coordinated approach for addressing the problem.

Efforts to build new housing units have floundered, and the city’s spending on affordable housing has plummeted to US$26 million, roughly a quarter of what it was a decade ago. Without clear guidelines, departments instead tend to rely on ad hoc responses, according to the report by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana. A census of the homeless in Los Angeles County released in May found that the number of people bedding down in tents, cars and makeshift encampments had grown to 9,535, nearly double the number from two years earlier. The US$100 million figure was chosen in part for its symbolism, said Herb J Wesson Jr, the City Council president, to show county, state and federal officials that the city was willing to make a significant contribution to an urgent problem. “Today we step away from the insanity of doing the same thing and hoping for different results, and instead chart our way to ending homelessness,” he said.

And do the math here — it doesn’t amount to much at all.” In New York, Mr Blasi said that hundreds of existing housing vouchers went unused because homeless people could not find landlords who would accept them. “People who would have thought of themselves as homeowners 10 or 15 years ago are renting, and it’s a grim situation in a lot of places,” said Mr Steve Berg, the vice president for programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “A lot of places don’t have a real grip of what the homeless population is in real time, and respond only crisis to crisis.

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