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Councilmen criticize homeless efforts of city, county

LOS ANGELES — Saying there is little evidence the city or county is doing anything to create more or better shelters for the homeless, two councilmen said an emergency plan is needed to provide a safe place for all of Los Angeles’ residents who sleep on the streets.

A motion introduced Feb. 20 by Councilmen Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson says the city’s 2016 Comprehensive Homelessness Strategy resolution — a $1.85 billion outline for homeless initiatives over a 10-year period — called for an expansion and “dramatic transformation” of the region’s emergency homeless shelters. But that has not happened,” the motion said.

“In fact, there is scant evidence of any progress, no apparent plan or strategy to make progress, and no evident sense of urgency or attention to any efforts to make progress,” the motion said. “Even though officials have repeatedly declared a ‘state of shelter emergency,’ there is no institutional or organizational sense of emergency to move thousands of people off the streets immediately, or even in the next several weeks or months.”

The motion seeks a number of actions from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which coordinates homeless services for Los Angeles County, which would be directed to provide several comprehensive reports within 14 days, including the framework for an Emergency Response Homeless Plan, outlining what steps and what funds would be required to provide an alternative to homeless encampments for 100 percent of the homeless population by the end of the year.

“LAHSA has no position on the legislation. If it passes, LAHSA will of course carry out the wishes of the City Council,” Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the homeless services authority, told City News Service.

According to the motion, the Comprehensive Homelessness Strategy resolution called for the expansion and “dramatic transformation” of emergency shelters into crisis and bridge housing opportunities.

David Graham-Caso, a spokesman for Bonin, said many homeless shelters in Los Angeles have a lot of restrictions that can discourage participation, which can include not allowing pets or requiring anyone staying there to leave each morning and not allowing them back in until the evening hours. Crisis or bridge housing can provide less restrictions along with 24-hour service, he said.

Homelessness in the city of Los Angeles jumped by 20 percent in 2017 while the county saw a spike of 23 percent compared to the previous year, according to the results of the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. In the city, the total number of homeless went up to 34,189 and the county number
increased to 57,794.

The city’s primary response to the problem of homelessness the last few years was the passage in 2016 of Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund permanent housing for the homeless.

It will likely take years to build the thousands of permanent housing units that Proposition HHH will fund, and more recently some City Council members have been saying the city and county should take more drastic measures to create a greater number of emergency beds and shelters, including Councilman Jose Huizar’s recent proposals to use trailers to house the several thousand homeless people in Skid Row and near the historic El Pueblo site off of Main Street.

“Los Angeles must provide genuine alternatives to sidewalk encampments — urgently,” the Bonin/Harris-Dawson motion stated.

The motion would also require LAHSA to provide information on how many homeless people are currently being provided shelter or housing, how many it aims to house by the end of this fiscal year and the next three fiscal years, what steps have been taken to replace barracks-style shelters with 24-hour crisis housing and bridge housing, and what steps have been taken to recruit houses of worship and other nonprofits to provide shelter beds.

The motion would also direct the Los Angeles homeless coordinator to provide a list of every public facility in the city legally eligible to be used to provide shelter, temporary housing or safe parking.