LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Saying a “state of emergency” exists in Los Angeles due to rampant homelessness, Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council members said they plan to spend $100 million or more to battle the problem.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Garcetti said the homeless people who sleep on the lawn of City Hall lawn are a “symbol of our city’s intense crisis,” and said he wants the city to immediately put $13 million into services and rental subsidies for the city’s homeless.
More than 25,000 people are homeless within the city of Los Angeles, according to the latest 2015 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Countywide, homelessness has risen 12 percent since 2013’s count, from 39,461 to 44,359 people homeless.
Several City Council members introduced motions Tuesday to declare an emergency around homelessness and ask for a plan to spend up to or more than $100 million in city funds to address the issue. Council members said they have yet to figure out where they will find the money, or whether the money will be spent annually or spread out over time.
The declaration of an emergency is a tool that has been used by California government agencies, including cities, to ease rules around the use of city facilities and private property as shelter for the homeless. The city of Los Angeles declared a state of emergency following the 1994 Northridge earthquake in order to more quickly shelter displaced residents, Councilman Mike Bonin’s spokesman David Graham-Caso said.
The city’s annual winter shelters are also made possible through a declaration of a shelter emergency, he said.
This latest proposed emergency declaration would not only make it easier to set up shelters in Los Angeles, but could also allow the city to speed up the construction of affordable homes in the city.
The motions will be discussed by the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which is meeting next on Oct. 7.
Garcetti, who has promised to release a “battle plan” on homelessness, said he wants the city to spend $100 million per year on services, according to a letter he sent Monday, Sept. 21, to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.
Garcetti wrote that he has been working with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Home for Good, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and others to develop a “separate but coordinated” approach for the city and county that will be rolled out over the coming weeks.
“My goal is for these strategies to yield the necessary investments, including $100 million each year for permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and interim housing for homeless people,” Garcetti wrote.
While these efforts are expected to be concluded in the winter, “we cannot wait until we finish this critical planning process,” according to Garcetti’s letter.
“We must do everything we can now to get people off the streets and into housing with the resources we have available,” the mayor wrote.
He instructed Santana to plan for a potential $5 million to be spent on providing short-term rental housing subsidies that could “rapidly re-house” about 1,000 homeless people for six to nine months, along with another $5.1 million to do the same for homeless veterans.
He also proposed spending $665,000 to help open winter shelters a month early, keep them open a month longer and offer round-the-clock services when it is raining.
Garcetti also proposed putting $1 million into helping to create regional facilities where the homeless could store their belongings, do their laundry, take showers and get referrals to services.
Another $1 million should pay for data entry work for a “coordinated-entry-system” that helps manage resources for homeless individuals so that emergency response teams can spend more time doing homeless outreach.
He said these and other initial steps could “give us the momentum needed to make real progress over the coming year.” He also said they are also needed to prepare for the expected “severe weather conditions from El Nino this year.”
City Council President Herb Wesson said members of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which is co-chaired by councilmen Jose Huizar and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, would introduce a motion calling for $100 million to be dedicated to services for the homeless, particularly permanent supportive housing and shelter programs.
The motion is also expected to call for a study of how the funding could be leveraged “to ensure an ongoing revenue stream to support the program,” according to Wesson’s office.
Santana recently released a report stating that the city already spends an unplanned $100 million due to homelessness, the bulk of which is used for law enforcement responses to the issue.
Garcetti and other council members have recently come under pressure from advocacy groups to move away from using police officers and other enforcement measures in remedying homelessness, and to instead put more funding into housing. An ordinance recently adopted by the council would make it easier for the city to dismantle homeless encampments and confiscate belongings.
Wesson addressed those concerns on Tuesday, saying that “as a moral society, we have an obligation to provide shelter for the shelterless.”
According to Harris-Dawson, “a substantial infusion of resources is the only way to deal with the emergency we face.”
He said the $100 million “investment, along with commitment and coordination with Los Angeles County, neighboring cities and the private sector can set us on a path to sustainable recovery.”
Pete White, a co-founder of Los Angeles Community Action Network, which has been pressing city leaders to spend more money on housing and to reduce the use of law enforcement to address, said the announcements today were “an important step,” but the only money that was actually promised was the $13 million proposed by the mayor.
He said he is concerned city money would still largely go to Los Angeles Police Department to staff heightened programs in areas such as downtown’s Skid Row, with as many as 50 officers patrolling a small, 50-block area with a high homeless population.
The $87 million that is spent in the police department to address homelessness should instead be used to help fund the $100 million that city leaders have vowed to commit to homelessness, he said.
“We have got to stop wasting so much money on enforcement and begin to apply those resources to things that actually work,” he said.