There's been a huge increase in people living on the streets of Los Angeles.
Just look around. Homeless encampments are everywhere, even on the tonier Westside. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority says the number of tents, makeshift shelters and vehicles used as homes has increased 85 percent since 2013.
The total number of people living al fresco has gone from 35,524 in 2013 to 41,174 today, the authority says. It has gotten so bad that some are even suggesting the explosion of people on the streets has contributed to an increase in crime in the city.
The “back-to-basics” leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti has been trying to respond. Earlier this year he declared that he would end veteran homelessness in L.A. by the end of December, only to back off, realizing the goal likely couldn't be achieved.
This week the mayor backed a proposal by City Council president Herb Wesson to dedicate $100 million to homeless services, although details on the plan were scant.
The Mayor's Office also declared a state of emergency when it comes to the homeless issue. Garcetti said a “critical short-term strategy” from the city would include $13 million in emergency cash that would go mostly toward housing subsidies for vets and “non–chronically homeless” folks.
Garcetti ordered city shelters to “remain open 24 hours a day during the rainy season,” and he called for winter shelter season to be expanded by two months, according to a statement.
Wesson's proposal calls for a one-time infusion of $100 million in cash for homeless services. The mayor wants to top that by calling for $100 million a year that would be invested in permanent housing.
The council asked staffers to find the initial $13 million somewhere. Where the $100 million would come from is anyone's guess, too.
And, in a town where it can cost $100 million to build one modest high-rise, it's not a lot.
Longtime homeless advocate Alice Callaghan of Skid Row community center Familias del Pueblo scoffed at the figure. She noted that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to spend $1 billion over four years.
“One hundred million is laughable,” she said. “One hundred million won't even buy all the homeless pillows. This is a catastrophic housing crisis. There's no sense of emergency.”
Callaghan argued that the intrusion of upwardly mobile loft dwellers downtown and in places like Westlake west of downtown has actually reduced the number of housing units available to those close to the edge, exacerbating the problem.
In other words, she says, the situation is getting worse by the day.
“Immigrant families are being displaced,” Callaghan told us. “We're doing nothing to stem the continued loss of affordable housing.”
Eastside City Councilman Gil Cedillo has been pushing for City Hall action on the matter. He says the state-of-emergency status could be used to ease building restrictions, allow homeless to camp out in cars in city parking lots, use park facilities as emergency shelter and let builders construct “micro units” much smaller than the average apartment.
He told KCRW's (89.9 FM) “Which Way L.A.” that if the city doesn't build at least 50,000 housing units ASAP, L.A. could become known as the “homeless capital” of the Western world.
“The combination of an increase in the homeless population and a lack of housing has led the city of Los Angeles to declare a state of emergency, requiring immediate action to address its lack of housing and provide immediate shelter for individuals on the street,” Cedillo said in a statement sent to us by his office. “Like we did during the Northridge earthquake, we must take bold action to quickly meet the demand of building the infrastructure Los Angeles needs to house the thousands of people currently living in our streets. The state of emergency will help us fast-track affordable housing projects that will ultimately bring long-term sustainability to the lives of the many families currently living without shelter.”
The new initiative comes after city leaders were roundly criticized for a proposal to clear homeless encampments after a 24-hour warning. “We can’t arrest our way out of it,” Councilman Jose Huizar said yesterday.
Garcetti called the new City Hall action “a necessary initial investment that helps launch my comprehensive plan to tackle homelessness.”
Let's get this party started.