Our City's Approach To Homelessness

Tent

April 19, 2021

Tomorrow our Mayor will release his proposed budget for the City of Los Angeles, which will include almost a billion dollars in new spending to address homelessness. That figure represents nearly a sevenfold increase over just five years ago, and is finally at a scale that begins to match the enormity of the challenge we face. 

Never have we marshalled more resources to tackle this crisis, and this crisis has also never been worse. It’s a moment of great possibility for our city, but it’s one of great peril as well. Let me explain what I mean.

Over the last few years, Angelenos have become aware of the large amount of resources being marshalled to tackle homelessness, but so far they’re not seeing a tangible impact when they look at their streets. They’re frustrated that new homeless housing has been expensive and slow to materialize, and a growing number are advocating that the city return to removing unhoused people at will from public spaces.

I’m deeply frustrated too. But it’s important that we put this moment our city is facing in historical context.

Until just a few years ago, criminalization has been the primary approach towards homelessness that our city has taken for over a century. And each decade, in which the majority of resources has gone towards arresting and jailing unhoused people, moving them from parks to streets to underpasses to jail and back, we’ve seen a corresponding rise in the amount of people living on our streets. 

Only in late 2016, through Measure H and HHH, did Angelenos make their first major commitment of resources to addressing this issue with care and services and housing. Only now are the first permanent supportive housing units built through these funds being completed. It feels like forever, but in the history of our city’s approach to this issue, it is a blink of an eye. 

Since taking office four months ago, we’ve devoted significant resources to scaling up our homeless outreach services across the district, implementing the only approach that’s been proven to build trust and lead to stable and long-term housing solutions. We are also working on expanding housing options in the district, including sites for Project Roomkey and Homekey, among many others. 

In response to the encampment at Berendo, our office has met eight times since January with nearby neighbors while closely coordinating efforts between LA Sanitation, the Mayor’s office, LAPD, the Neighborhood Prosecutor’s office, the Department of Building and Safety, the Bureau of Street Lighting, LADOT, the GRYD program, and LAHSA, exploring every avenue to make sure our unhoused neighbors receive services and housing and our housed ones feel safe in their neighborhood. We’ve been working closely with law enforcement to address criminal complaints, and we’ve supplemented these efforts with gang intervention workers, social workers, and support from community groups.

Before our intervention, there was no consistently scheduled outreach at this encampment. Since then, outreach workers from LAHSA, LAHSA-funded partners, and community groups have been visiting at least three times a week with real offers of services and housing in hand -- and it’s been working. Multiple people have already moved into interim housing opportunities such as Project Roomkey, and more are moving forward in their journey toward permanent housing. An encampment that has existed in some form since 2017 has seen positive change for the first time due to the care and resources we’ve directed toward it over the last three months.

But building new systems takes time. It takes patience, grace, and a belief that we are all fighting on the same side. And it requires us to know our city’s history, and its dismal track record in tackling this issue. 

This new approach -- of leading with care, and services, and housing -- is just barely underway, and only by doubling down, working twice as hard, and devoting twice as many resources, can it have a chance of success.

So I am asking something of you as much as I am offering anything. To anyone who wants to make a difference in this enormous problem that will define our city’s future, join me. Reach out to our office about how you can help. We need people demanding homeless housing and affordable housing in their neighborhoods, mental health specialists and social workers on their streets, and tenant protections and rental assistance across our city.

We’re planning a regular series of community meetings on different topics facing Los Angeles and District 4, and our first will tackle this most pressing of moral issues. We look forward to engaging with you about how we can collectively lift up this city we all love.

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