Los Angeles State of Emergency
Last week, during Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ first days in office, Bass said emergency state on the spiraling homelessness crisis in the city. It is intended to last at least six months, although it will need to be re-approved by the Los Angeles City Council every 30 days.
It should be simple, except that the city council is embroiled in a series of controversies stemming from racist statements made by several council members over a hot mic in the fall. During this incident, several members of the Latin American council, including former California State Senate leader Kevin de León and the head of the LA Federation of Labor, were caught using racist comments disparaging the African American son of a white council member during a conversation about how to shape council district boundaries in a way designed to increase the political power of Latinos in the multiracial metropolis. The protesters swore to close city council meetings until de León resigns, which he refused to do. Several council members also refused to participate in meetings with de León, thus depriving the council of a quorum to conduct business. Earlier this month, a hat-wearing Santa Claus from León walked into a physical fight with an anti-racist activist; the resulting images, captured on a cellphone, went viral via Twitter.
Bass’s office, however, is working on the assumption that the council will at least be functional enough to hold meetings in the coming months – and that at those meetings they will approve his declaration of a state of emergency in order to channel more resources in the effort. to alleviate the catastrophe of homelessness in Los Angeles.
The declaration of the new mayor is, above all, intended to reduce red tape. It’s built around a strategy called “Inside Safe,” which aims to expedite the movement of homeless people into city-leased motel rooms and apartments and would require applications for affordable housing and shelter placement be processed within 60 days instead of the current six. -at nine months.
At the same time, Bass is strengthen coordination between city departments working on homelessness and non-profit organizations and other organizations on the ground, with daily meetings scheduled to deal with the crisis. His goal is to house at least 17,000 of the city’s more than 40,000 homeless during his first year in office.
The mayor’s project is not unanimous. communities such as Lancaster, in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, fear they will eventually become dumping grounds for homeless people in the City of Angels, with mental health facilities and shelters located out of sight in these distant -from the periphery of the center. In response to a statement from Bass that she was considering moving a number of homeless people to a “village” in Antelope Valley, Lancaster declared a state of emergency and sworn to oppose such action.
The simmering conflict between Bass and people on the outskirts of Los Angeles who fear being overwhelmed by homeless people in need is a microcosm of California’s larger homelessness challenge. As a state, we want the crisis to be resolved; as individuals, however, we don’t necessarily want it fixed in our backyards. The result is the untenable status quo.
Rrecently published Housing and Urban Development Data suggests that 30% of the nation’s homeless live in California, as does the astonishing half of the nation’s homeless homeless. And the problem is accelerating in the Golden State even as it slows in much of the rest of the country. Last year, the number of homeless people nationally increased by 0.3%. In California, although Governor Gavin Newsom has invested tens of billions of dollars in resolving the crisis, he has increased by more than 6 percent.
Housing in California, along with Oregon and Washington, is one of the nation’s greatest political and moral disasters. Bass’ commitment finally tackling this problem in Los Angeles is both long overdue and also fraught with the political risks that come with the possibility of failure. After all, politicians have pledged to tackle homelessness for at least a decade, and yet year after year the crisis has deepened. A state that prides itself on its progressive social outlook is now littered with housing camps that, in many ways, are at least as dilapidated and dangerous as the refugee camps on the edge of war zones.
In the first 11 months of 2022, more than 200 people died in the streets of San Francisco. In 2021, more than 1,500 dead on the streets of Los Angeles County. More … than 500 dead in San Diego County in the first 10 months of this year. Between January and July of this year, almost 100 dead on the streets of Sacramento County.
They die of natural causes, they die of drug overdoses, they die of exposure to the elements, and they die of violent deaths. In Sacramento, a good quarter of those who died in the streets were killed intentionally or accidentally, the majority of them by blunt force – in other words, they were bludgeoned to death, either murdered, hit by vehicles or involved in other fatal accidents. It’s a trend that’s been going on for years but seems to have gotten worse lately.
In the huge and growing encampments along the west coast, public health workers have, in recent years, discovered epidemics of typhus, hepatitis A, shigellosis – a bacterial disease that causes diarrhea – trench fever and other contagious diseases. Tuberculosis, HIV and other highly communicable diseases are also proliferating in these settlements, most of whose residents have no reliable access to running water, toilets or showers.
From top to bottom, California state, city and county officials are playing mole, moving homeless people out of an encampment only to watch a new encampment spring up a block or two away. In my Sacramento neighborhood, this mole game has intensified in recent weeks as the city finally begins cracking down on encampments that are both a public health calamity and also epicenters of quality of life crimes. who are driving local businesses off the downtown thoroughfares. At one point earlier this year, none of the local service stations had tire air pumps; all the pumps had been vandalized and the rubber stolen. The local Starbucks and Jamba Juice closed, with managers publicly saying they were shutting down because so many homeless residents were coming in and stealing things. The local Walgreens has so many thefts that it now locks many of its wares behind glass shelves; recently, when I walked in, an employee took me down an aisle and then, apropos of nothing, said “so many beautiful things, and they will all be stolen”.
Along Broadway and other major streets there’s a post-apocalyptic air these days: homeless encampments every two blocks, people struggling with drug addiction and mental illness without help – lying unconscious on sidewalks, wandering in and out of traffic on busy streets – trash strewn everywhere.
For years, politicians from both parties have proven either unable to deal with this crisis or unwilling to recognize the heavyweight needed to bring all of the interrelated issues at play here under control: drug addiction, untreated mental illness, the mass release of prisoners without wraparound social services to help them reintegrate into society, the high price of housing, the overregulation of developers, the NIMBYists’ abuse of environmental laws such as California’s Environmental Quality Act. The result was an escalation of disaster.
Karen Bass is committed to bringing the full force of the Los Angeles City Government and its resources to the fight against homelessness. If successful, her state of emergency should serve as a model for other city and county governments on the West Coast; if it fails, and if the Los Angeles crisis continues to escalate, it will show the limits of the philosophy of good governance in these dysfunctional and often cruel times. Let’s hope she doesn’t, because if California is to continue to prosper, it’s vital that Bass’s efforts to curb homelessness bear fruit over the next few years.