Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Rising tide of homeless in Los Angeles causes public emergency

By Jennifer Medina  /  NY Times News Service, Los angeles

“It is repeated all over the country: We work to get them emergency food and shelter, but housing continues to be unaffordable, so you see people lingering in emergency services or going to the streets,” Hustings said.

In Los Angeles, rents have soared all over the city and housing vouchers usually cover only a fraction of the rent for a home near public transportation. Efforts to build new housing units have floundered, and the city’s spending on affordable housing has plummeted to US$26 million, roughly a quarter of what it was a decade ago.

Neighborhoods that were once considered hubs of relatively inexpensive motels and single-room apartments — Venice Beach, the downtown arts district — have been transformed into well-to-do enclaves filled with cupcake emporiums and doggy day care centers.

A census of the homeless in Los Angeles County released in May found that the number of people bedding down in tents, cars and makeshift encampments had grown to 9,535, nearly double the number from two years earlier. More than half of the estimated 44,000 homeless in Los Angeles County live within city limits, according to the census. Nearly 13,000 in Los Angeles County become homeless each month, according to a recent report from the Economic Roundtable.

The spending proposal will need to be approved by the city council and allocated by its Homelessness and Poverty Committee. The US$100 million figure was chosen in part for its symbolism, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said, to show county, state and federal officials that the city was willing to make a significant contribution to an urgent problem.

“Today we step away from the insanity of doing the same thing and hoping for different results, and instead chart our way to ending homelessness,” he said.

However, many longtime advocates for the homeless in Los Angeles said the city council’s proposal was not likely to make a big dent in the number of people who are finding themselves on the streets.

“Encampments used to be contained to Skid Row, where city officials would try to control or ignore them,” said Gary Blasi, law professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, who has studied homelessness in the region for years. “Plans have been made and never made it off the paper they’re written on. It’s not clear what will be delivered. And do the math here — it doesn’t amount to much at all.”

In New York, Blasi said that hundreds of existing housing vouchers went unused, because homeless people could not find landlords who would accept them.

While overall homelessness has declined nationally, urban areas with rising rents are facing the most acute problems.

“People who would have thought of themselves as homeowners 10 or 15 years ago are renting and it’s a grim situation in a lot of places,” said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “A lot of places don’t have a real grip of what the homeless population is in real time, and respond only crisis to crisis. But what we’ve learned about homelessness over many, many years is that you have to provide housing, and criminalizing the homeless doesn’t keep people off the streets at all.”

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that lets police confiscate property and makes it easier for them to clear sidewalks of homeless encampments. Similar legislation has been passed in other cities.

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