Officials in Los Angeles are pressuring California Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency as the city and state grapple with a ubiquitous homelessness crisis.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and City Councilman Joe Buscaino drafted a proposal last week urging Newsom to declare the state of emergency, which could divert state and federal money generally reserved for natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires into projects to combat homelessness. The move would also suspend or streamline some of the legal red tape that that has stalled affordable housing and shelter projects.
“Homelessness has ballooned into a crisis of seismic proportions outside of the control of the City of Los Angeles and the cities of the State of California,” Buscaino wrote in his proposal to Newsom. “The plight of individuals living on the streets jeopardizes the public health and safety of those individuals and imperils the broader citizenry of the State of California.”
It is unclear if Newsom will support such a measure, or what help a state of emergency might actually bring to the crisis, given that the Trump administration has rejected giving California more federal funding. Also, just last week, Newsom signed a package of bills that allocates $1 billion to local homeless projects and removes regulatory barriers for the construction of supportive housing and shelters.
“Homelessness is a national emergency that demands more than just words, it demands action,” Newsom said in a statement. “State government is now doing more than ever before to help local governments fight homelessness, expand proven programs and speed up rehousing.
He added: “And just this month, the Legislature passed the strongest package of statewide renter and anti-eviction protections in the country — a top priority for this administration that will protect Californians from unfair evictions and rent gouging that have contributed to this crisis.”
The homelessness crisis in California has been in the national headlines for more than a year. There have been reports of hepatitis outbreaks on Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row, and of frustrated residents putting boulders on the sidewalks of San Francisco to deter homeless people from sleeping or camping in front of their homes.
A damning report to local lawmakers earlier this year revealed that Los Angeles alone saw a 16 percent increase in its homeless population over last year – soaring to more than 36,000 people living on the streets and delivering a blow to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city officials working to add more affordable housing and social services. Overall, in the bigger Los Angeles County, the homeless population rose 12 percent compared with last year’s count, bringing the total population to almost 59,000.
Advocates working with the homeless question so-called “quick fix” measures like declaring a state of emergency, saying that while lawmakers might mean well, the move would do little to address a systemic problem.
“The crisis of homelessness is going to require a sustained effort, not some quick fix,” Jerry Jones, the director of public policy at the Inner City Law Center, told Fox News. “The expectation that there is some shortcut is probably not the right approach.”
Jones added: “The government, both nationally and on the state level, stopped spending money on building affordable housing, on mental health care, on drug rehabilitation. These are budgeting choices that occurred over decades, so to deal with the crisis we need a long-term, sustained effort.”
Newsom signed off on a $214.8 billion budget in June, authorizing $2.4 billion in spending to address the state's housing and homelessness crisis. The budget allocates $650 million to local governments to build shelters, offer rental assistance and convert hotels and motels to temporary or permanent housing.
In Los Angeles, Garcetti has prioritized Skid Row in his plan to tackle homelessness and is allocating $7 million from the $124 million the state recently approved for improving the health and safety of city residents. The city already spent $20 million last year to expand hygiene infrastructure and street cleanups in the community.