Los Angeles panel proposes homelessness state of emergency

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. 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 nation to take such a drastic step in response to its mounting problem with street dwellers.

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.Los Angeles officials said Tuesday that they will declare a state of emergency over homelessness, and proposed spending $100 million to reduce the number of people living on the streets.The announcement, made by the City Council and mayor Eric Garcetti, included plans to pledge $100 million of the city’s budget toward housing projects and other initiatives to help the homeless, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This city has pushed this problem from neighborhood to neighborhood for too long, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy,” Garcetti said during a news conference. “Every single day we come to work, we see folks lying on this grass, a symbol of our city’s intense crisis.” This year, the city’s homeless population was estimated to be 25,686, a 12 percent increase since 2013, according to a recent survey by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 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.

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. An estimated 26,000 homeless people live in L.A., with a majority on the streets. “It’s not a Skid Row problem,” Councilman Gilbert Cedillo told the Times. “It’s a problem that’s proliferated throughout the city. The action came the morning after Garcetti proposed to release nearly $13m in newly anticipated excess tax revenue for short-term housing initiatives. According to the Dallas Morning News, a homeless person who cycles through the prison system and emergency health services on average costs the county about $40,000 a year. 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 that “a more robust financial forecast for the city” is anticipated in the months ahead.

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. Much of those costs are absorbed by the LAPD, but they’re borne by other agencies as well, like parks, paramedic services, street maintenance, and libraries — an average of 680 to 780 homeless people are believed to visit each of the city’s 73 libraries daily. Keith Ackerman, executive director of Cottages at Hickory Crossing, told Huffington Post that the initiative will bring down those costs to less than $13,000 per year. 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. “A hundred million dollars won’t even buy all the homeless pillows,” Callaghan said, contrasting L.A.’s proposal with New York City’s $41 billion affordable housing plan unveiled last year.

In places known for good weather like Honolulu and Tucson, or for liberal politics — like Madison, Wis. — frustration has prompted crackdowns on large encampments. If we want to be a great city that hosts the Olympics and shows itself off to the world,” he added, “we shouldn’t have 25,000 to 50,000 people sleeping on the streets.” The study said people from many systems, including those dealing with disability, mental health, foster care and criminal justice, fed into the homelessness pipeline. Garcetti said he wanted to see increased capacity and longer hours at shelters ahead of the anticipated arrival this winter of El Niño, an ocean-warming phenomenon that sometimes brings months of heavy rains to southern California.

Earlier this year, a study by the city’s top budget official found Los Angeles already spends $100m 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. Callaghan said she feared the bulk of the new money would go toward “reducing the visibility” of the homeless ahead of a proposed bid to bring the Olympics to Los Angeles in 2024, which includes about $6bn in public and private spending. But the presence of the street homeless, highlighted on the front pages of tabloids, has put public pressure on Mr. de Blasio to address the 3,000 unsheltered homeless holding signs on sidewalks, sleeping atop subway grates and huddling in encampments. Efforts to build new housing units have floundered, and the city’s spending on affordable housing has plummeted to $26 million, roughly a quarter of what it was a decade ago. 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 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.

In Honolulu, where the city has spent the last two days shutting down homeless encampments that have irritated residents and frightened tourists, a federal judge on Tuesday denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s request to stop seizing and destroying people’s property during the sweeps.

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