Mayor Garcetti said: “We need money to build housing for the homeless.”
Voters said: “Here is $1.2 billion for housing the homeless.” (November bond issue.)
Mayor Garcetti said: “We need money to provide services for the homeless.”
Voters said: “Okay, we will tax ourselves a one quarter percent sales tax, so that you can provide needed services for homeless.”
Mayor Garcetti said: “Now, we need to study the homeless problem and figure out what to do.”
Annual survey: Homeless population in Los Angeles increased 23% over last year.
Mayor Garcetti said: “Quick. Let’s allocate the money to 19 existing homeless agencies.”
I say: “Mr. Mayor and City Council, respectfully, this is a recipe for failure!”
The City of Los Angeles cannot fill pot holes, fix buckled sidewalks, trim trees, repair storm drains or streets, and, even with all the money you need, you cannot build shelters, housing and provide needed services for the homeless.
Here is what five term Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley would have done about homelessness.
Prior to the November election, he would have brought together an advisory committee, made up of business, homeless advocates, housing developers, homeless service providers and homeless persons.
Assuming the bond issues passed, he would have been looking for a “back of the envelope” outline of what needed to be done in year one and year two to begin the housing AND the homeless services component.
On an individual basis, he would have invited each council member to his office. His message would have been simple: (1) Do everything you can to help us win this bond issue. (2) Pick out two sites in your district where 50 units of homeless housing/shelter can be built on each. (3) Work with your neighborhood councils to gain support for the housing/shelter and sites. (4) Put your best staff on this. We do not want opposition. (5) The morning after the election we are going to meet in the City Council Chamber and announce each of the fifteen sites (one in each council district) and five sites in downtown Los Angeles. (6) If you need anything, call me. (7) Remember, success is the only option.
Then, Mayor Bradley would have brought together the Chairmen and CEOs of all the banks in town, along with key city staff, Dick Mitchell, Administrator of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and homeless housing developers. His message to the banks would have been: “I need 40 loans and my collateral will be the money that will come from this bond issue.”
To the developers, “Pick two sites that will be announced by each council member. Give me a brief proposal for 50 units on each of these sites. Make sure you indicate your equity source, construction and permanent financing. If you are going to need a subsidy, what kind and how much?”
On the day after the November election, Mayor Bradley would have filled council chambers with his advisory committee, each of the council members, homeless advocates, homeless service providers. This gathering would be comparable to the announcement of the 1984 Olympics. The meeting would have been led by John Argue, the articulate leader of the Olympics effort (Today, I would recommend Rick Caruso). It would be a day for each of the council members and the homeless in that district. (Yes, they would have been bused to City Hall.) All the media would be there. The Mayor’s message: “We are going to solve this HUMAN issue.”
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Mayor would have hosted 20 “block parties” for the homeless. With the help of United Way, Red Cross, Union Rescue Mission and major caters, music and other events would have lifted the spirits of all these people.
Of course, none of this happened. Mayor Garcetti and the City Council do not think this way, but this is how problems get solved.
I just returned from New York City. I was all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. In four days, I saw 11 homeless people on the streets. Each of them were by themselves. It made me ask the question: “What is NYC doing that Los Angeles is not doing to approach the homeless issue?”
New York city has a population of 8.5 million, with 61,277 homeless. Los Angeles has a population of nearly 4 million, with 34,189 homeless. Of this number, approximately 15,000 homeless live in tent encampments in downtown Los Angeles.
New York has 61,277-homeless people, including 15,328 homeless families, with 23,000 homeless children. Los Angeles does not collect this information, so it is difficult to triage the client group and determine how to properly meet their needs.
Over the course of 2016, more than 127,652 different homeless men, women and children slept in the New York City municipal shelter system. (Los Angeles does not have a shelter program anywhere close to New York.) This includes over 45,000 different homeless children. Since Los Angeles does not collect information on the profile of the homeless, they are not able to put together an effective intervention program. In Los Angeles, the person on the street perception of homeless is “they are the mental cases, drug, alcohol and PTSD people.”
In New York, research shows that the primary cause of homelessness, particularly among families, is lack of affordable housing. The triggering causes of homelessness: eviction, doubling-up or severely overcrowded housing, domestic violence, job loss and hazardous housing conditions. Los Angeles only has anecdotal information on the causes.
For New York, research shows that, compared to homeless families, homeless single adults have much higher rates of serious mental illness, addiction disorders, and other severe health problems.
From an ethnic standpoint, approximately 58 percent of New York City homeless shelter residents are African-American, 31 percent are Latino, 7 percent are white and less than 1 percent Asian-American. In terms of affordable housing, there are more than two extremely low income and very low income households for every one housing unit that is available.
In Los Angeles, there are approximately 50,000 affordable housing units. On an annual basis, the city produces approximately 4,000 units per year.
While the voters approved an affordable housing bond issue for the homeless and a second ballot measure by 75 percent, the amount that the City of Los Angeles is proposing to spend is paltry. In New York, Mayor de lasio has proposed a 2017 budget of $1.6 billion or $26,000 per homeless person. As a matter of comparison, Mayor Garcetti has committed $138 million or $4,000 per homeless person.
The New York City program is bold and focused on producing 200,000 new affordable housing units over the next ten years. On the other hand, Los Angeles is proposing a very tepid non-program. The low lights of the budget proposal are:
- 2,500 Rapid Re-housing rental vouchers
- Approximately 1,500 annual shelter beds
- 190 winter shelter beds
- 32 sobering beds
- Up to six Open Door Resource Centers providing storage, showers and services
- More than 500 annual domestic violence shelter beds
- 600+ units of accessible affordable and permanent supportive housing construction
On an annual basis, New York City is preserving 12,000 units and building 8,500 new units.
Based on living in Los Angeles and visiting New York City numerous times over the years, I would expect that five years from now the number of homeless people in New York City would be trending downward. Los Angeles, on the other hand, will see sharp spikes in the number of homeless.
For Los Angeles to change the trajectory of the homeless population several basic things must drastically change, including:
- Mayor Garcetti needs to worry more about how he is going to apply the best practices from other cities, like New York, than he does about his next political job.
- The Mayor and Council must prepare a survey by a reputable body that provides a profile of the real needs of the homeless population in Los Angeles.
- The Mayor and City Council must commit a budget of at least $25,000 per homeless person, which represents a six-fold increase.
- On an annual basis, they need to create 5,000 shelter beds.
- The Mayor needs to commit to a vision that will result in the building of 100,000 of affordable/homeless units in the next ten years. (To do this, there needs to be at least two homeless housing sites for a minimum of 50 units each in every City Council District and ten in downtown LA per year.)
- On an annual basis, the City of Los Angeles needs to construct or have constructed 10,000 affordable/homeless housing.
- In areas where there are encampments, they need to provide 24/7 porta potties and healthcare triaging. (Currently, the City keeps the porta potties open for only eight hours. Why? Because this fits the schedule of the city workers.)
- Health facilities can be provided in modular units that can move from one encampment to another.
- It is important to separate the women and children from the rest of the homeless population and make sure that their special needs are met.
Bottom line: To begin to solve the homeless problem, Los Angeles needs to have more of the vision, leadership and action of former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.