Lead Story National & World Politics West Edition

STREET TALK: Rep. Waters’ hearing on homelessness brings call for more federal funding

EXPOSITION PARK — Several members of Congress heard about the causes and solutions for homelessness crisis during a four-hour hearing Aug. 14 at the California African American Museum.

The “Examining the Homelessness Crisis in Los Angeles” field hearing, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters in her home district, gave community members the opportunity to hear from state and local officials, experts, advocates and House Financial Services Committee members who are hoping to work together to do something about the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles and nationwide.

Waters said federal lawmakers need to take a hard look at themselves and analyze public policy decisions that have indirectly or directly contributed to homelessness.

“In the public housing developments, if you have a son or a grandson or a granddaughter that gets in trouble and maybe has to be incarcerated, this could facilitate the whole family getting put out of public housing,” Waters said. “That’s bad public policy.”

“A root cause of this [homelessness crisis] is a crisis of housing affordability,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 

According to the authority, homelessness is up 12% in Los Angeles County. The agency estimates 58,936 are experiencing homelessness in 2019, up from 52,765 in 2018.

African-Americans make up 33 percent of the total homeless population in L.A. County despite being only 8 percent of the general population.

Lynn said African-Americans are disproportionately affected by homelessness because of structural, systemic and institutional racism, coupled with the fact that more than one-third of Angelenos can barely afford their rent, spending at least 50% of their income on housing.

Anthony Haynes, who used to be homeless on Skid Row, told the committee that transitioning from the streets to permanent supportive housing took time, especially since he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. 

“Now that you’re housed, you have to learn to live with yourself,” Haynes said. “With wraparound services, psychiatrist, therapist at my disposal, it took me a long time to find my worth.”

Haynes testified as part of his role as a Speak Up! Advocate for Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Mayor Eric Garcetti was the last speaker of the day,

“This is a human-caused problem that can be a human-solved problem,” Garcetti said before explaining that building more low-income and subsidized housing is one of the most important steps to preventing and ending homelessness.

Garcetti also said homeless prevention is also directly tied to mental health.

“Get people the interventions. So many people that I’ve talked to who live on the street, they had a job, they had a car, they had an apartment until some health issue and or mental health issue and or addiction issue hit them,” the mayor said.

“The trauma of that and by not intervening early so that people stay in that home and they keep that job, we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per person to deal with that on the back end.”

Ideas from the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles centered around building more permanent supportive housing to provide the growing number of people experiencing homelessness with a safe place to sleep, while at the same time providing access to resources like case management services.

Christina Miller, who serves as the Los Angeles deputy mayor for city homelessness initiatives, said additional federal funding for rental subsidies would make a big difference locally.

“Our homelessness crisis is our affordable housing crisis. … We must increase affordable housing options for people to exit to,” Miller said.

Waters discussed what she called her “landmark bill,” H.R. 1856, The Ending Homelessness Act, which she said would provide $13 billion in emergency funding to end homelessness in America.  

Waters said she knew $13 billion would raise eyebrows but “we’ve got to put the resources to the problem.”

“It is time to pass Maxine Waters’ Ending Homelessness Act now,” Garcetti said, adding that the city of Los Angeles has plans to buy old and often blighted motels and turn them into temporary transitional housing.

Garcetti also said he would also like to see amnesty and criminal records expunged for low-level offenses related to being homeless like sleeping in a vehicle. 

Advocates said it is important to recognize that many women and their children experience homelessness because of domestic violence. Garcetti said 95% of the women on Skid Row are survivors of domestic or sexual violence.

“We cannot build our way out of this crisis,” warned Monique King-Viehland, executive director of the Los Angeles County Development Authority, who supports a holistic, multi-modal approach to ending homelessness.

She said without social services programs and mental health treatment, people who were able to find housing might find themselves back on the street again.

“What touches my heart more than anything else is to see those who’ve benefited from some of the services that have been made available to them because of funding,” Waters said. “Even though the funding has not been as great as it should be … we had two individuals here whose lives have been turned around, who are living in safe, decent and secure housing. They’re different human beings (now) and maybe their whole lives have been saved.”