Long Beach’s new mayor calls for state of emergency for homelessness

Just hours after being sworn in, Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson on Wednesday asked city officials to draft an emergency declaration on homelessness, a move he hopes will “make get our homeless neighbors off the street”.

“The crisis we are going through requires us to act more quickly and with urgency,” Richardson told The Times in an interview. “It’s our top priority.”

In a letter to the city manager, Richardson and Councilwoman Mary Zendejas asked that the statement be presented to council for its Jan. 10 meeting, allowing the city to act quickly and reduce red tape in hiring. and supplies to respond to what Richardson said was a humanitarian crisis.

The move would put Long Beach in line with Los Angeles, where last week newly elected mayor Karen Bass made a similar statement, giving her the ability to create temporary housing, distribute money to groups that cater to the homeless and reduce red tape. in regulatory and licensing processes.

“When LA thrives, our region thrives — we’re not confused about that,” Richardson said. “There can’t be just one city that makes things better. But if Long Beach and Los Angeles are aligned on values ​​and focused on this issue, it will drive the region.

Richardson first indicated his intention to seek the declaration on Tuesday after being sworn in as Long Beach’s first black mayor during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Terrace Theater. After his announcement, he recognized Bass, who attended the ceremony.

“That’s right, Karen Bass,” Richardson said. “I accept your call to stick together and address the common challenges of our city.”

About 40,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles. Bass recently announced a plan to move people from the streets to hotel and motel rooms, and said she plans to bring about 17,000 people inside in her first year as a mayor.

According to a 2022 report on Long Beach’s homeless population, California’s seventh most populous city has 3,296 people experiencing homelessness. That’s a steep 62% increase from 2020, the last time the city made a similar report.

This included 1,282 people who were chronically homeless, meaning they had been homeless for at least a year and suffered from a disabling condition.

In the past year, Richardson said, 99 people in the city died on the streets before they could get help with housing.

“If we could have reached them faster and gotten to cover faster, I think we would have saved more lives,” he told The Times.

The pandemic and rising housing costs have worsened the homelessness crisis, putting more families at economic risk and increasingly putting rents out of reach for many people, the mayor said. The solution would not be quick, he said, but the urgency to act was immediate.

“This crisis will not be resolved overnight,” Richardson said during his inauguration on Tuesday. “It’s going to take a lot more than a six or nine month emergency declaration. This is going to require long-term housing solutions in the end.

Richardson declined to give specific details but said he was working on putting together a team to deal with the emergency and scheduled a meeting later this week with city services to tackle homelessness .

On January 10, he also plans to unveil a 100-day plan. In the meantime, he said, his priorities were to increase shelter capacity, increase the number of teams caring for the city’s homeless population and finally roll out the alternative program of response to city crises. Overseen by the city’s health department, the program aims to deploy trained civilians to respond to non-emergency mental health crises that are not violent or require medical assistance. Unveiled in March, the program has yet to roll out, Richardson said.

Recently, the city expanded to about 1,400 shelter beds, but Richardson said it takes more than just increasing the number of beds available at homeless shelters.

“Even if we put everyone in a shelter, that doesn’t break the lack of affordability we have at all income levels,” he said.

The city is working to purchase small homes and will reach out to non-governmental partners, such as church groups and businesses, to seek other opportunities.

The new mayor pointed out that the city recently obtained 600 housing checks but still has about 300 in hand because they have not been accepted by the owners.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what needs to happen to engage our owners,” he said.

He also plans in the coming weeks to draft and present a plan to the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which represents six counties and 191 cities. He declined to elaborate on what that proposal might include.

As part of his efforts to address the issue, Richardson said the city would also unveil a new website on Wednesday as a hub for homelessness resources and information — a move he said was necessary to educate. the city on the crisis.

“We need every part of our city to get involved,” he said.

The mayor’s announcement comes four days after Richardson took part in a meeting at the White House with President Biden and a dozen other newly elected mayors to discuss federal partnerships to provide public safety and housing.

After the meeting, the White House on Monday unveiled a plan calling on local governments to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025.

Los Angeles Times

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