Los Angeles mayor faces recall effort over handling of city's burgeoning homeless crisis

Mayor Eric Garcetti is facing a recall effort as he continues to be besieged by complaints about Los Angeles' widespread homeless population and his handling of the crisis.

The two-term Democrat spoke Wednesday about the city's response to figures released earlier this month that showed a substantial increase in homelessness despite millions of dollars being applied to the problem. The city saw a 16 percent jump in homeless people -- to 36,300 -- over last year, according to an annual point-in-time count conducted by Los Angeles County earlier this year.

"I feel very strongly about the mission that I'm on," Garcetti said. "We are housing more homeless people than ever before and ... we are going to redouble our efforts."

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He declined to talk about a recall effort, saying he refused to be distracted by "political games."

The homeless figures have come as no surprise to residents in and around Los Angeles County, where encampments have taken over city blocks in some areas and tents are a common sight near City Hall, under freeways and along bike and jogging trails.

The city's homeless was once largely confined to the Skid Row neighborhood downtown, but sightings of people with shopping carts filled with belongings are now common in residential neighborhoods miles from the city center.

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In this May 10, 2018, photo, a homeless person sits at his tent along the Interstate 110 freeway in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

In this May 10, 2018, photo, a homeless person sits at his tent along the Interstate 110 freeway in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Countywide, the homeless population surged to 59,000 people, a jump of 12 percent from the previous year. The increase has fueled a health crisis as concerns grow about disease outbreaks, rat infestation and garbage and human waste on city streets.

Alexandra Datig, who is leading the recall effort, called it a "state of emergency."

“He can’t handle the crisis,” Datig said of Garcetti, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He needs to step down.”

For a recall to be put on a ballot, organizers must collect more than 300,000 petition signatures, something some see as a longshot. If anything, the effort could become a symbolic statement fueled by public unrest.

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Advocates have argued the region needs more affordable housing and shelters to drive the homeless population down. On Wednesday, Garcetti announced funding to boost cleanups around homeless encampments and providing mobile restrooms and showers. He said the city could employ some homeless people to clean around the encampments.

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"It's a crisis unlike anything we've seen before," he told reporters. "We are spending every waking moment to confront this crisis."

In 2016 he convinced voters to approve a $1.2 billion bond measure to build 10,000 housing units for the homeless, but none have opened. He announced plans last year to build 15 shelters, but they have been slow to open.