LA officials to declare state of emergency on homelessness

LOS ANGELES city officials this week said they would declare a state of emergency on the growing issue of homelessness.

They also proposed spending $100 million to reduce the number of people living on city streets, the Associated Press reported.

City Council President Herb Wesson, members of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the plan Tuesday, Sept. 22 outside of City Hall, while a few homeless men and women dozed nearby on a lawn.

“These are our fellow Angelenos,” Garcetti said. “They are those who have no other place to go, and they are literally here where we work, a symbol our city’s intense crisis.”

An emergency declaration and funding will require action by the full City Council. Wesson did not specify where the money would come from, but he said budget analysts would find it “somehow, someway.”

The first roll-out of funds—projected for Jan. 1, 2016—would go toward permanent housing and shelter, his office said.

The Council’s action came the morning after Garcetti proposed to release nearly $13 million in newly anticipated excess tax revenue for short-term housing initiatives. The bulk of that money, they said, would be dedicated to housing homeless veterans.

If approved, the two initiatives could steer additional resources toward the LA’s vast homeless population, which recent estimates have put at more than 20,000 and growing. The majority of homeless men, women, and youth live on the streets, from LA’s downtown Skid Row, to Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

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 in downtown and on the west side of Los Angeles.

“A hundred million dollars won’t even buy all the homeless pillows,” she 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.”

Details of the councilmembers’ proposal were not immediately available, but officials said generally they would look to expand outreach and services for homeless men and women living on the streets, and aim to boost the number of local shelters, programs, and resources aimed at diverting people from homelessness when they are in the care of the city.

Garcetti added that he wanted to see “increased capacity and longer hours at shelters” ahead of the anticipated arrival of El Nino, an ocean-warming storm expected to brings months of heavy rains to Southern California this winter.

Earlier this year, a study by a top budget official found Los Angeles already spends $100 million a year on homelessness—much of it on arrests and other police-related services.

However, city departments have no coordinated approach for addressing the problem, reports said. Without clear guidelines, departments instead tend to rely on ad hoc responses, according to the report by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.

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 $6 billion in both public and private spending.

“They can spend billions on getting the Olympics,” she said. “But not on getting people off the sidewalks.”

Meanwhile, city councilmembers said they hope to have a draft strategic plan on homelessness by December of this year.

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