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How LA mayoral candidates would tackle homelessness

Faced with a huge public outcry to solve homelessness in Los Angeles, almost all of the top candidates for mayor in 2022 agree on at least one thing: the problem of the thousands of people sleeping in tents and motorhomes across the city is a crisis that deserves a disaster-level response.

In general, they agree with most voters in a poll released last week that thousands of new interim housing beds are needed right now. They said the city must also continue to build permanent housing, with around 40,000 homeless in Los Angeles, 70% of whom are unprotected. And they widely agreed that the county’s mental health system needs to work more efficiently and be expanded.

It is not clear where all of this new interim housing will go and how it would be funded.

Candidates were asked about their plans after the publication of the poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute in coordination with The Times. He revealed that homelessness continues to be the dominant problem in the region, with 94% of voters viewing homelessness as a serious or very serious problem.

For some, thousands of new cottages, rented hotel rooms and other forms of short-term shelter where people can get back on their feet is the starting point.

“I think first and foremost that there has to be an urgent need to get people off the streets now and make sure the settlements are gone,” US Representative Karen Bass told The Times.

“Frankly in our society these are just things you don’t do outdoors and sleeping is one of them unless you are camping. So we definitely need more temporary housing and resources should be focused on all the different strategies that have been implemented. “

Atty of the city. Mike Feuer said he would declare a state of emergency, giving the mayor the power to requisition buildings and tackle the “spread of authority” over homeless people in the city.

“It’s been a long time among so-called homeless experts the view that you focus on chronically homeless first, then everyone,” Feuer said. “I don’t agree with that. I think we should focus on getting as many human beings off our streets as quickly as possible.… I would say the biggest problem is the lack of shelters and housing for people.

Public opinion shifted as the crisis deepened over whether public investment should prioritize temporary shelters or long-term housing higher, with county voters opting for short-term solutions. from 57% to 30% in the poll. In a similarly worded question two years ago, opinions were almost evenly divided.

The city has focused a lot of attention and resources on building permanent supportive housing for the homeless, which researchers see as the most effective way out of chronically homeless people.

But politicians and taxpayers have sharply criticized a status quo in which the average cost per individual unit has swelled to over $ 500,000 and projects often take years to materialize.

Bass, Feuer, City Councilor Kevin de León and City Councilor Joe Buscaino are among those who say the city should immediately focus on short-term options that can help get people off the streets as soon as possible.

For Buscaino, that means 7,000 new temporary housing units in his first 18 months in office. Feuer believes that about 3,000 new beds built per year during his first tenure to get all those without shelter off the streets are realistic.

Bass warned that she hadn’t fleshed out the details completely, but said the creation of 10,000 new beds seemed like the right number.

All were convinced that the influx of money from the federal government, along with Sacramento’s projected $ 31 billion budget surplus, could help cover construction costs. People staying in shelters of all kinds are still considered homeless; the hope is that they can stay for a relatively short period of time while they stabilize, connect to services and find a permanent home.

From León set an objective in January of the creation of 25,000 new housing units for the homeless by 2025 and defended the creation of small reception villages and the purchase of hotels to be transformed into shelters for the homeless.

But De León has drawn the line on building new shelters for the gatherings, which he says would be a waste of taxpayer money as many people don’t want to accept transfers there. Feuer and Buscaino both said large sleeper-style shelters still have a place in the homeless response.

Like most other candidates, Encino entrepreneur Ramit Varma has sharply criticized the slow and expensive pace of homes being built so far under the HHH proposal, the $ 1.2 billion bond measure. adopted by voters in 2016. Varma, who co-founded an online tutoring company and pledged to spend at least $ 1 million of his own money on his campaign, said the city failed by focusing too much on permanent supervised housing.

The city should quickly expand its transitional housing stock so that those who are recently homeless or on the verge of homelessness can be protected as quickly as possible before suffering further trauma on the street, he said. .

Jessica Lall, president and chief executive officer of the central city business group Central City Assn., And Mel Wilson, a San Fernando Valley-based real estate agent and former member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also served on housing and homelessness the central theme of their campaigns. .

Wilson, who describes himself as a “advocate for the housing industry for nearly 30 years,” said he believes the city should push developers to build more affordable housing by waiving fees and assigning helpers social to help direct worthy projects through the often Byzantine approvals. to treat.

Wilson also espoused more creativity in the construction process, suggesting city leaders explore prefabricated housing components for faster construction, among other tactics.

The issue of adding temporary housing capacity in the city has been linked in recent months to debates over laws regarding where homeless people can camp.

Buscaino, a former police officer representing a district stretching from Watts to the Port of Los Angeles, stood out on the council with a harsher speech – calling for a tougher approach to homelessness than many of his colleagues.

He was the catalyst for debate and the eventual passage of a law regulating sitting, sleeping and storing goods near fire hydrants, building entrances, walkways, libraries. , parks and primary schools.

The new law – known as “41.18”, in reference to the section of the municipal code it replaced – created a process in which members can identify problematic settlements and introduce resolutions to ban them. This concerned homeless advocates and some members of the city council, who say the city has made eliminating unsightly street settlements a priority, even when there is not enough permanent housing for the displaced. .

In the recent poll, voters expressed skepticism about eliminating camps without offering people a place to go. A majority of those interviewed said that when a settlement is emptied, the homeless are more likely to move to other settlements in the area, rather than finding shelter or permanent accommodation or leaving the area.

A federal court order in Boise, Idaho, create a legal precedent limiting the enforcement of anti-camping ordinances unless shelter is available. This decision colored the debates on how the app should be conducted in the city.

The other city councilor in the race – De León, a former head of the state Senate representing a district that covers downtown LA and much of the Eastside – voted in favor of the anti-ordinance -targeted camping, but thinks it should be used more sparingly.

“If you run 41.18 all over town then all you do is move people around,” said De León, comparing the massive app without adequate housing options to a set of musical chairs that will inevitably leave a lot of people behind. with no place to go.

Bass echoed this sentiment, saying empowering individual council members means the city won’t view homelessness as the regional problem it has become.

“The idea that it’s a district-by-district council, I think takes away the need for a city and county-wide approach,” Bass said.

She said there must be rules governing the way people live on the streets and that an increased number of city-funded outreach workers should lead the way – even if police are still involved but behind. -plan.

Buscaino said that although there should be an expansion of awareness, no one should be allowed to sleep on the streets: “For those who are not ready to accept help, we cannot abandon these people. , but at the same time, we must have standards in our streets.

Buscaino is also pushing for a voting measure before voters in November that would completely ban homeless settlements in public spaces.

Feuer, who as the city’s lawyer was instrumental in crafting these highly controversial ordinances, said he didn’t like using resolutions to block off parts of the city. He was, however, in favor of outright bans on sleeping in certain places, such as near existing homeless shelters, saying that communities were unlikely to accept new housing facilities in their neighborhoods if they believed large settlements. will follow.

Feuer was also dissatisfied with the work of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, saying that this jointly-sponsored authority where city and county contribute funding is an outdated and inefficient model. He said he did not yet know what the best alternative was and that the city should make an effort to find a better model if it decides to back down.

Buscaino called on the city to pull out of LAHSA, saying it should create its own agency that would be accountable to the council. Other candidates have raised the possibility of leaving LAHSA, but not in such final terms.

Lall proposed to create a city-wide public health service and also potentially move mental health services under city jurisdiction.

The downtown business leader said her decision to run was in part shaped by the death of her younger brother, who suffered from drug addiction and mental health issues that ultimately claimed his life.

“I know that no one can really get better in a tent, and we have to do better in terms of providing housing and services and acting with much greater urgency,” said Lall.

Los Angeles Times

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