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Mayor’s speech emphasizes solutions to homelessness

LOS ANGELES — While many praised the homelessness efforts Mayor Eric Garcetti announced April 18 during his State of the City address at City Hall, General Dogon was not one of them.

An activist with the L.A. Community Action Network on Skid Row, Dogon was joined by a coalition of community groups outside the steps of City Hall where they held a “People’s State of the City” address immediately after the mayor’s speech.

“We are here today because we’re mad as hell and we demand change in the form of resources for our community,” Dogon said. “We are in a serious crisis, especially for poor, black and brown Angelenos; we find ourselves at the bottom of every category.”

Inside City Hall, Garcetti acknowledged the homelessness crisis by announcing that he would pledge $20 million for emergency shelters to help people get off the streets.

The program, which he is calling A Bridge Home, will fund trailers, tents and other emergency shelters across the city in an effort to “confront the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Garcetti estimates that through this plan, 1,500 beds will be added to shelters, providing 6,000 people a place to sleep every night if each bed serves four people over the course of a year.

The plan comes at a time of growing urgency to get the more than 34,000 homeless people living in their cars and on the streets of Los Angeles into temporary shelters. It’s a plan that shifts the mayor’s focus from building permanent housing to centering on short-term shelters.

“Homeless Angelenos can’t wait years to get off our streets. We need more options for bringing them inside now,” the mayor told 300 union leaders, community activists and politicians at City Hall.

And he’s hoping to get the 15 districts in the city on board by offering $1.3 million to those that volunteer to build emergency shelters in their neighborhoods and by promising more sanitation teams to keep their streets clean.

While the $1.2 billion Proposition HHH bond will continue to build supportive housing within the next decade, Garcetti pledged to put $430 million into the homelessness crisis in the next fiscal year.

It’s a plan that Joel Roberts, CEO of nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless, thinks is a great step in combating the crisis.

“[The program] is a really good first step towards addressing street homelessness. For many, many years, [PATH], the community who’s addressing homelessness, have been concentrating on what we call housing first,” Roberts said.

Housing first, he said, focuses on putting homeless people in apartments first and then providing services as needed, which was taking resources away from shelters and putting them in permanent housing.

Though Mel Tillekeratne of the #SheDoes movement — which promotes the sheltering and protection of homeless women in the city — agrees that it’s a good effort, he said it is only a fraction of what needs to be done.

“Plans and the allocation of funding are just 25 percent of the project. Fifty percent is breaking through neighborhood opposition. We need Garcetti to ease through neighborhood restrictions,” Tillekeratne said.

Once people are in shelters, the other 25 percent should be focused on providing services to those with mental illnesses and substance addictions, and ensuring individuals get permanent housing.

What the program does not address, he said, is the lack of affordable housing in the city, which is why he believes people become homeless.

And that is a sentiment that was shared by people outside City Hall, who added that the city needs to create more jobs for its residents.

City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson addresses people who rallied outside City Hall during Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City speech April 16. Harris-Dawson told the crowd that without good jobs, people can’t pay rent.
(Photo by Dorany Pineda)

“The city has to hire people in order to run a city of this size,” said City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who spoke at the rally after the State of the City address.

“Instead of laying on sidewalks, we need people fixing sidewalks. Instead of sleeping in alleys, we need people with jobs with union benefits and health care cleaning up alleys for us and for our community,” Harris-Dawson said, urging community groups to continue putting pressure on the mayor to do more.

“We can build homeless housing and we can build affordable housing, but if the people in this city don’t have good jobs, they can’t make rent … and they can’t build the kind of community that we all deserve to live in,” he said.

Others during the rally demanded that the city do more to fix its damaged streets, including Timothy McDaniel of the Alliance of Californians for Community.

McDaniel and a speaker from the L.A. Black Workers Center said that neighborhoods like South L.A. lack vital city services, which are needed more than ever before.

Their words were supplemented by dozens of posters showing broken sidewalks and worn out streets, with one speaker saying that many of her neighborhood’s potholes have turned into craters.

“Mr. Mayor, how do you expect to be president and fix our community when you haven’t fixed L.A.?” asked Beverly Roberts, a South L.A. resident.