One-third of the nation’s homeless population now lives in the state of California. Even the White House has taken notice.
“It’s inappropriate,” President Trump said during a Fox News interview during his recent visit to Japan. “We have to do something. And you know, we’re not really equipped as a government to be doing that kind of work.”
Nevertheless, on the first of July, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stated that he will lead a coalition of mayors to Washington D.C., calling on Congress to pass the Ending Homelessness Act, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43).
The act would direct more than $13 billion to support the work of cities on the front lines of the homeless crisis.
Even though L.A. County voters passed the landmark Measure H sales tax—which is currently raising about $355 million annually to serve the homeless—the number of new persons on the streets is growing faster than affordable housing can be built.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA), which conducts federally mandated homeless counts of persons living on streets and in shelters, LA is the least affordable housing market in the United States because wages have not kept up with rising housing costs.
“Only New York has more people experiencing homelessness on any given night,” said Peter Lynn, LAHSA executive director.
According to the count, Black people in LA County continue to be four times more likely to experience homelessness. In 2017, Blacks represented only 9 percent of the general county’s population, yet comprised 40 percent of the homeless count.
Last fall, LAHSA called for the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness to better understand this issue. The committee’s summary didn’t mince words.
“The impact of institutional and structural racism in education, criminal justice, housing, employment, health care and access to opportunities cannot be denied: homelessness is a by-product of racism in America,” it concluded.
“Systematic racism, I agree,” Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said. “One of the reasons it’s so bad in our community is that back in the day the desire and urgency weren’t there.”
Nearly1650 homeless reside in Herb Wesson’s 10th Council District. Forty-three percent of that number identify as Black.
“We’re constantly building facilities,” Wesson said, pointing out that there are plans to build housing for homeless women in the parking lot of his Western Avenue District 10 office. Two buildings have already been constructed on Washington Blvd., near his home.
Additionally, Wesson would like to expand the safe parking lots in the city’s churches to give services to the increasing number of persons sleeping in their vehicles.
“If you’re a mother of two, sleeping you your car, you sleep with one eye open at night,” Wesson said, adding that safe parking programs include security guards and service counselors. “Individuals are pre-vetted and come in the evening to use the restroom facilities and showers.”
The councilman plans to expand recruiting efforts to local religious facilities.
“Churches are the backbone of our community,” Wesson said. “They have the expertise, they have the desire and the have the humanity.”
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, saw a homeless increase of 16 percent in his supervisorial district over last year’s count. Forty-seven percent of the homeless there are Black.
“The data is stunning,” said Ridley-Thomas, who was a key proponent of 2017’s Measure H.
“We had hoped that things would be trending differently, but we will not ignore our realities,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This is a state that is the wealthiest in the nation, and, at the same time, it is the most impoverished.”
In April, the supervisor joined Mayor Garcetti and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson in a groundbreaking ceremony for the first “A Bridge Home” facility in south L.A. It will provide beds and support for 100 homeless persons.
“Chesterfield Square and Hyde Park have long had many families and individuals living in cars and RVs,” Harris-Dawson said.
“This is the prime location to launch our first “A Bridge Home” facility to provide a safe and secure location to receive services while being connected to permanent housing.”
The district will soon include a Navigation Center, which will act as a one-stop shop in service provision, life skills training, counseling, laundry and restroom facilities — all provided by the County through Measure H.
Harris-Dawson’s 8th District has a count of 2,597 homeless, 69 percent of whom are Black – up 46 percent from last year.
Of the total 4,455 homeless persons counted in the 9th Council District, 52 percent are Black. That’s an increase of 18 percent over last year’s Black homeless count.
“We have a disproportionate number of African American men in our jail system and living unsheltered on our streets,” Councilmember Curren Price said. “And we are fighting a tidal wave of people who are one pay check or illness away from being on the street. To stop the bleeding, we must be proactive, not reactive.”
Price’s 9th District encompasses most of downtown and south Los Angeles and was the first to open an “A Bridge Home” site, which is located near Olvera Street.
According to his office, Price is committed to carrying out solutions to help the homeless, including providing permanent and temporary housing facilities; expanding church programs which provide safe, overnight parking lots; adding mobile toilets, showers and hand washing stations; and supplying the community with additional LAHSA outreach teams.