County Takes the Lead On Homelessness,
L.A. City Playing Catch up
by Tim Deegan
Every level of government – Federal, State, County and City – is now focused on the homeless crisis gripping the City of Los Angeles. Odds are that one of the four will come up with a viable plan, but right now there is too much attention being paid to the very top of the pyramid. There’s a lot of blank space leading down to the base where the people experiencing homelessness live.
Let’s hope that the County Supervisors and the L.A. City Council can both provide the solutions we need and L.A. will not need to rely on the State Assembly or the Federal Housing and Urban Development. The fact that Julian Castro, Secretary of HUD, was recently here to meet with city and county leaders on this critical issue only reinforces how serious the problem has become.
The inside track goes to the County Supervisors who have already launched a “summit on homelessness” complete with hearings and study groups and a schedule of deliverables. The outlier is the State Assembly, where Assemblyman Richard Bloom, whose assembly district covers a wide swath of Los Angeles, has indicated his growing interest in prioritizing the symbiotic issues of homelessness and affordable housing. He could be one of the really good guys – fresh to the problems to be solved.
Federal Government representatives have recently met with a coalition of Supervisors, Councilmembers and the Mayor. But now, faced with the looming Presidential election and a turnover of the administration, we can’t expect the Feds to have the hustle to come through in a lame-duck atmosphere.
That leaves the City Council to pick up a lot of the slack…so let’s hope the good guys stand up. One or two councilmembers should take a leading role to help understand this crisis and forge some solutions.
Homelessness is one of the most pressing issues facing our city. And it’s very visible on the streets and sidewalks everywhere in L.A. Fortunately, the County Supervisors are taking action with their homeless summit
that is scheduled during the months of October, November and December – a plan which is well underway with projected deliverables, including triage for the most critically mentally ill homeless. All the city has right now is a press release.
These two local elected government bodies, housed within sight of each other at City Hall and the Hall of Administration, share common issues revolving around the homeless crisis. But how can they be on such divergent paths in approaching the problem? One is going forward to provide help; the other seems to be going nowhere.
The Supervisors’ internal clocks are ticking accurately: they understand the urgency of the situation, especially the mentally ill homeless problem. But the councilmembers’ internal timepieces appear to be poorly wound…with no alarm set.
The contrast between the approaches is stark. The County has launched an active multi-modal “homeless summit.” The City’s “plan,” however, was announced in a press release
on January 29, 2015, declaring its determination to “end chronic homelessness, including on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles, by the end of 2016.” But has the city’s countdown even started? Do they really think that in thirteen months from now the homeless will have miraculously disappeared?
Or just maybe, are we seeing “Olympic fever.” As in, clean things up so we will be better positioned to win the 2024 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will announce the Olympic Host City for 2024
in a ceremony in Lima, Peru in September 2017. Remember when the Chinese shut down all of the coal-burning factories in Beijing to “clear the air” for the Olympics? Will our officials do the same in Los Angeles, attempting to “clear the air” by eliminating the crisis of homelessness just in time for the 2017 decision in Lima?
The civic and political leadership of Los Angeles seems to be mocking the public’s intelligence by promising to provide an “end-date” for solving the people with homelessness crisis. Do they think nobody notices the increase in tent encampments everywhere across our city? Or that not a single city councilmember has even shown the PR common sense to be photographed in a food line serving the homeless? Better yet, why haven’t any of them bothered to stand on camera with homeless people, introducing them to the public, asking for their names and background?
The gulf between the City Hall politicians and people experiencing homelessness is a very wide gap. Someone who is homeless, and possibly mentally ill, looks up from street level and sees the politico making $200,000 a year. The economic gap is unfathomable, so no wonder there is little simpatico. Our City of Gold is being tarnished each time an elected official announces the next hollow solution for the homeless crisis while looking down from the safety of the steps of City Hall.
The alarming distance between those that rule and those that are shunned must be narrowed dramatically. Courageous leaders need to step up and demand urgent action from their City Council colleagues. They should not rely on the Secretary of HUD unless they expect us to go into Federal receivership.
At this point, any one of the 15 councilmembers could get the ball rolling. We need to have some motions made, start public hearings, and cast a brighter light on one of the darker aspects of L.A. city life.
Two freshman councilmembers are poised to do great things in this area: Marqueece Harris-Dawson (CD8) [photo right
], and David Ryu (CD4). The former is the co-chair of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, and the latter comes into his new job as an announced expert on chronic homelessness with a strong background in mental health. They need to shake hands and start leading their colleagues out of this morass.
Councilmember Harris-Dawson has stated, "As Co-Chair of the Committee I have worked to align the City with the County's timeline to leverage our shared resources to get critical services such as long-term supportive housing and mental health services.” He gets the importance of making it a priority to get our mentally ill homeless into urgent care.
Councilmember David Ryu [photo left
] came into office a few months ago saying, “I want to change the dialog in City Hall.” With his background in mental health, Ryu could use his voice and experience and would be a perfect match to work with Harris-Dawson. These two newcomers can make their mark as leaders who are able to help fix a problem their colleagues have been unable to even understand.
Harris-Dawson and Ryu can make and second a motion to hold public hearings on how the recently announced $100 million allocated for the homeless crisis will be used. They can invite people experiencing homelessness and their street-level service providers to come and present public comment on how that money should be spent.
Success hinges on two big “ifs:” First, if the Supervisors, energized by Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas, are successful with their well-thought out plan to take direct action using the resources of the Department of Health Services, the largest county agency of its kind in the country.
The second “if” relates to how well Councilmembers Harris-Dawson and Ryu will collaborate with each other to build a consensus among their colleagues. The rest of the council needs to recognize them as leaders who can help clarify the issues of homelessness and outline what solutions must be found. It’s time to pass the torch to the newcomers.
A Hollywood ending is definitely possible here. The city needs triage for the mentally ill homeless, housing at the Vetern’s home for homeless vets, sustainable and supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness that will process through a yet-to-be-determined system.
All this will take leadership that so far not been too visible in the City Council. And if, by chance, the politicians are
meeting behind closed doors – and if
they are making progress – now would be a great time for them to share their plans with the public.
Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at email@example.com.
This article first appeared November 10, 2015 in CityWatch and was edited by Linda Abrams. Our thanks to Tim and CityWatch editor Ken Draper for permission to republish it here.
For additional information:
Los Angeles Times, 12 Nov 2015: Despite Pledge L.A. Has Yet to Declare State of Emergency on Homeless Crisis