Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass boldly promised to “solve homelessness” in her first post-election address to the city and declared a state of emergency regarding the crisis at her swearing in ceremony, but critics say the plan she laid out is full of good intentions and swell catch phrases while short on specifics for a city bureaucracy that runs on details and fine print.
In announcing the state of emergency—which is expected to last six months but needs the renewed approval of the City Council each month—Bass said to standing ovations at the Microsoft Theater in November that her administration will “recognize the severity of our crisis and break new ground to maximize our ability to urgently move people inside, and do so for good.”
Bass elaborated that her administration would pursue a “single strategy” to bring together often competing arms of local government, the private sector, and others with skin in the game. “It will create the structure necessary for us to have a true, unified and citywide strategy to set us on the path to solve homelessness,” Bass said.
In terms of what those statements could mean in reality for the estimated 41,980 unhoused people living in the city, Bass promised to provide housing for 17,000 people experiencing homelessness in her first year. Bass also announced that she plans to launch the Inside Safe program, which she says will cost under $100 million and allow for the use of master leasing with motels to house the homeless, Fox News reports. The state of emergency, Bass said, will also allow the city to make better use of land it owns and to expedite approvals for affordable housing.
While there is a general consensus that the myriad agencies of city government and their private sector counterparts need to be brought together under someone’s—anyone’s—unifying vision after years of failing on homelessness, some who have studied the problem and heard the mayor’s speeches say she’s in danger of merely adding more rhetoric to the discussion if she doesn’t get down to the nuts and bolts.
Gary Dean Painter, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California and Director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute, told Fox News that the council’s approval of the declaration “signals a strong consensus to various city departments that they need to work together more effectively than in the past.”
Painter warned, however, “It will be very important to specify the goals for the next six months so that the short-term and long-term actions to address homelessness are successful and so that our city government is transparent and accountable to the people.”
Elizabeth Bowen, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo School of Social Work, said the declaration of the mayor’s state of emergency doesn’t address the root cause of the homelessness crisis—namely, the relentless housing affordability crisis, “which is particularly exacerbated in southern California.”
Altough L.A.’s homeless budget for the fiscal year 2022 to 2023 was more than $1.1 billion—up from just over $800 million the previous year, Bowen cautions, “Without significant investments in affordable housing, policy success in addressing homelessness is likely to be superficial or temporary.”
Still others point out that dealing with homelessness as an “emergency” akin to a public health crisis is a tactic many U.S. cities have tried and regretted as far back as the 1980s.
“Unfortunately, treating homelessness as an emergency has too often just led to an emphasis on shelters, thus, perpetuating the problem,” Christopher Hudson, a Salem State University professor specializing in homelessness and mental health told Fox. He, too, finds the Bass initiative lacking.
“She needs to put forward specific plans not only for the immediate ‘emergency’ response, but for addressing the many systemic problems that homeless individuals in LA face,” he said.
Some might also say that statements by Bass about how she intends to tackle the homelessness were largely undercut when city workers executed a sweep—itself a brutal and perhaps totally counterproductive strategy, which Bass has not denounced—of a homeless encampment across from City Hall just before a scheduled inauguration appearance… Which was ultimately scrapped due to inclement weather.
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