Finally Acknowledging the Obvious, Los Angeles Moves to Declare a State of Emergency on Homelessness
It may be a coincidence, but a few days after Truthdig finished running my three-part series of columns on homelessness, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and seven of the 15 City Council members announced they would declare a state of emergency and try to find $100 million to cure what has become a municipal curse.
The public officials, of course, didn’t need our website to alert them to the situation. All they had to do was look down the street, or better yet walk a few blocks to see the tents and tarpaulins of the homeless’ encampments on Skid Row sidewalks, or drive around and check them out in parks and under freeways throughout the city. There is hardly any area in this rich city without women, men and children living on the streets or in cars and recreational vehicles.
Tuesday’s proposed declaration must be approved by the full City Council.
I talked to Garcetti about the homeless while reporting for my series.
“A lot of people say ‘Don’t talk about homelessness, and don’t talk about ending homelessness, because there is no political upside; the problem is intractable even if somebody cares about it,” he said as we chatted one afternoon in his City Hall office. “But I have worked on this issue ever since I was 14 or 15; when I was in junior high school I used to come down and volunteer on Skid Row. In New York, when I was in college, [I worked in] Harlem with my extracurricular time.” He went on to say that the problem of homelessness was one of the reasons he had sought to be mayor.
Garcetti is going to unveil a long-awaited homelessness program, hopefully soon. As he outlined it to me, it will be ambitious, attempting to find housing for 10,000 people. “Hundreds of outreach workers” will talk to the homeless in order to persuade them to move into housing and accept the mental and physical help that so many need. This will take money, much more than is available in the city treasury. Federal programs to provide such housing have been slashed by the Republican Congress. And many neighborhoods, afflicted with the “Not in my backyard” syndrome, will resist.
It will be a tough job, but at least someone is finally paying attention.