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L.A. panel proposes homelessness emergency

  • Tents used by the homeless lined a downtown Los Angeles street on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES » Los Angeles officials said Tuesday that they would declare a state of emergency on homelessness and proposed spending $100 million to reduce the number of people living on city streets.

City Council President Herb Wesson, members of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee and Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the plan outside City Hall — as homeless people dozed nearby on a lawn.

"These are our fellow Angelinos," the mayor said. "They are those who have no other place to go, and they are literally here where we work, a symbol our city’s intense crisis."

An emergency declaration and the funding will require action by the full City Council. Wesson didn’t specify where the money would come from, but he said budget analysts would find it "somehow, someway."

The first rollout of funds — projected for Jan. 1, 2016 — would go toward permanent housing and shelter, his office said.

The action came the morning after Garcetti proposed to release nearly $13 million in newly anticipated excess tax revenue for short-term housing initiatives. The bulk of that money would be dedicated to housing homeless veterans.

If approved, the pair of initiatives could steer additional resources toward the city’s homeless population, which recent estimates have put at more than 20,000 and growing. The majority live on the streets.

Alice Callaghan, a longtime advocate for the homeless on Skid Row, said the proposed funding would not be nearly enough to stop the loss of affordable housing, especially in rapidly gentrifying areas downtown and on the west side.

"A hundred million dollars won’t even buy all the homeless pillows," she said, contrasting LA’s proposal with New York City’s $41 billion affordable housing plan unveiled last year. "A hundred million certainly won’t build much housing — and what we really have here is a housing crisis."

Details of the councilmembers’ proposal weren’t immediately available. Officials said broadly they would look to expand outreach and services for those living on the streets, boost the number of local shelters and create programs aimed at diverting people from homelessness when they are in the care of the city.

Garcetti said he wanted to see he wanted to see increased capacity and longer hours at shelters ahead of the anticipated arrival this winter of El Nino, an ocean-warming phenomenon that sometimes brings months of heavy rains to Southern California.

Earlier this year, a study by the city’s top budget official found Los Angeles already spends $100 million a year to deal with homelessness — much of it on arrests and other police services —but its departments have no coordinated approach for addressing the problem. Without clear guidelines, departments instead tend to rely on ad hoc responses, according to the report by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.

Callaghan said she feared the bulk of the new money would go toward "reducing the visibility" of the homeless ahead of a proposed bid to bring the Olympics to Los Angeles in 2024, which includes about $6 billion in public and private spending.

"They can spend billions on getting the Olympics," she said. "But not on getting people off the sidewalks."

Councilmembers said they hope to have a draft strategic plan on homelessness by December.

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