Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Strengthening the safety net for those near homelessness

After a difficult divorce and losing her job, Lakeisha Anthony fell into homelessness. It didn’t matter that she was a veteran with a graduate degree — there was no safety net to catch her.

For Anthony, the hardest part was having to make the heartbreaking choice to send her three daughters to live with their grandmother, while she struggled to find a place to sleep.

“I wasn’t able to be with my kids like I wanted to,” she remembered. “I wasn’t able to house them, and clothe them, and feed them.” For two years, she crashed on friends’ couches, in her car, and did not have a home of her own.

Then, with the support of our Home for Heroes initiative, PATH, and her Veterans Administration housing navigator, she was able to move into emergency bridge housing. I joined her on that moving day in 2015, and together with her children, we built a brand-new bunk bed.

We need more stories like Anthony’s — and those stories cannot be written soon enough.

The most recent statewide data shows that California has 129,972 homeless residents, making our homelessness crisis the second-worst disaster we’ve ever seen in the Golden State, second only to the Great San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 which left 200,000 homeless. And last month we received the sobering news that L.A.’s homelessness crisis is getting worse. There are now 36,300 homeless Angelenos in our city — a 16% increase over last year.

While we have housed more homeless Angelenos than ever before in our city’s history, it’s not enough. We must respond like it’s an earthquake — and do more, faster.

This past year, more than 21,000 homeless Angelenos were housed across the county, compared to 9,600 housed in 2014. We are putting more shovels in the ground, and since Proposition HHH passed, we have 109 homeless housing developments in the pipeline — that’s more than 7,400 new units.

Working with the City Council, we have increased our homelessness budget to more than $460 million for housing and services — 25 times what it was just four years ago — and the county has contributed hundreds of millions more. Our expanded funding will open new bridge housing that can temporarily bring our homeless neighbors off the street, and supportive housing that gets people under a roof for good.

L.A. added 16,525 units of new housing in 2018 — three times more than any other city in California. But that’s not enough, because Angelenos are becoming homeless faster than we can provide housing for them.

So in the weeks, months, and years ahead, we will continue to be bold and keep accelerating our work. We’ll cut red tape that delays new housing. We won’t shy away from tough but necessary decisions to add new housing in our neighborhoods.

We’ll add more showers, bathrooms, storage units and sanitation teams citywide. We’ll strengthen the safety net that keeps people from becoming homeless in the first place, including starting a new legal assistance fund to help renters fight eviction. And we’ll help Angelenos become homeowners — people like Lakeisha Anthony.

In June, I had a chance to catch up with Anthony and her daughters. She’s about to buy her first home — a milestone made possible because of the security that comes with supportive, affordable housing. She knows better than anyone that no one can do everything to solve homelessness, but everyone can do something.

That is why she wants to build an accessory dwelling unit at her new home so she can help bring unhoused Angelenos indoors. It’s her way of giving back, and another reminder why ours is a City of Angels.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.