There was a time when the homeless in L.A. were mostly concentrated in downtown’s infamous Skid Row. However, due to the sharp uptick in unemployment and inflation over the past few years, the situation has gotten much worse.
The city is now flooded with street dwellers and encampments are cropping up all over the place – from highways, parks and underpasses to the sidewalks at Venice beach. Tens of thousands of people are living on the streets, and while some might argue that the city has always had a problem with homelessness, it is the first time that the situation has prompted city officials to declare a public emergency.
“This city has pushed this problem from neighborhood to neighborhood for too long, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a news conference at City Hall. “Every single day we come to work, we see folks lying on this grass, a symbol of our city’s intense crisis.”
The officials propose spending $100 million to reduce the number of people living on the streets, which dovetails with Garcetti’s plan to assign $13 million in expected excess tax revenue to short-term housing. However, an emergency declaration and the funding will require action by the full city council.
“The human suffering that occurs on Skid Row is astonishing – it will literally take your breath away," said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who also co-chairs city's Homelessness and Poverty Committee. “That kind of suffering, that kind of desperation, should not be happening in the City of Los Angeles, but it is. It’s a humanitarian crisis and a moral shame.”
Los Angeles’ current homeless population – estimated to be 44,359 – has increased by 12 percent since 2013, according to a recent survey. Among them, 43 percent are unsheltered, while the number of tents, makeshift shelters, and occupied vehicles has risen by 81 percent.
“If you walk five blocks south and one block over, you'll enter the largest concentration of homeless in the country – about 4,000 homeless living in Skid Row," Huizar added.
While it's unclear how the spending programs would work, or what the sources for the balance of the $100 million initiative are, the councilman expects the plan will supply housing for the homeless, expand outreach and other services, and provide programs to help divert people from the street.
“If the City Council and the mayor are serious about ending homelessness, their announcements would include new and substantial sources of long-term funding combined with a call to end to laws, policies, and approaches that emphasize LAPD enforcement over services and housing,” stated Los Angeles Community Action Network, an advocacy group for low-income Los Angelenos.
Although activists have commended the $100 million initiative, the lack of specifics is somewhat troubling.
L.A. might be the first city in the United States to take such drastic measures to tackle the issue of homelessness, but it’s certainly not the only one searching for ways to alleviate homelessness or at least help the homeless.
For instance, Dallas is building shelters for the chronically homeless while Hawaii is transforming buses into living, sleeping, showering, and recreational facilities for the homeless population.