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Hundreds march in Hollywood demanding action on city's homeless crisis

Hundreds of demonstrators marched down Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday evening demanding that Mayor Eric Garcetti declare a state of emergency and spend $100 million to alleviate the city's homelessness crisis.

Watched over by about two dozen LAPD officers on foot and bikes, lines of protesters walked past the historic Pantages Theatre with signs accusing the mayor of breaking a pledge to address the crisis swiftly and forcefully.

"Hey, Garcetti, keep your word! Keep our homeless off the curb!" demonstrators chanted as they crossed Hollywood and Vine.

Passersby thanked the marchers; one man raised his fist and yelled, "God bless you!"

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Alisa Orduna, the mayor's homelessness policy director, marched with the demonstrators, saying Garcetti needed public demonstrations to push through his homelessness agenda.

Orduna said the mayor had received legal advice that the governor would back a state of emergency only in case of a natural disaster, not a chronic social calamity like L.A.'s burgeoning homeless population.

Garcetti proposed spending $138 million to address homelessness, but the source of half the money is uncertain. Food kitchens and other grass-roots relief efforts could help the mayor implement his homelessness agenda.

"We need community members to let council members know it's OK to open up homeless navigation centers in their neighborhoods, " Orduna said. "So far, what they're hearing from constituents is no."

Claudia Perez, one of the march organizers, said the mayor could do more.

"He sits at home. He doesn't see how bad it's gotten," said Perez, whose group, LA on Cloud9, distributes tents, food and other supplies to homeless people in South Los Angeles and skid row.

"It is absolutely a crisis, and we need the mayor to pass some bills to build shelters and housing," said Mel Tillekeratne, founder of Monday Night Mission, a five-day-a-week skid row food and relief group.

LAPD Officer Aaron Nunez, of the department’s Hollywood division, estimated about 1,500 people participated in Saturday’s march.

Los Angeles County has the most homeless people without shelter in the nation, studies have found, and over the years local officials have made tackling the problem a top priority. One tally released earlier this month found that nearly 47,000 people were living on the streets and in shelters countywide, with about two-thirds of those living in the city.

The city of Los Angeles has approved a $1.87-billion plan to step up homeless housing, but it's unclear where the money would come from. Garcetti wants to spend $138 million this year on general homeless services, but the city is still looking for how to cover half those costs.

The county has set aside $150 million and is talking about creating a "millionaires tax" or some other funding source to help pay for more homeless services.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown threw his support behind an ambitious $2-billion plan to build housing for California's mentally ill homeless population.

The governor's action comes as cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen increases in homelessness as rising rents and a lack of shelter space push poor people into shantytowns on city sidewalks and in riverbeds and canyons.

Under the plan, the state would issue $2 billion in bonds. The money would be repaid over 20 to 30 years with funds provided under Proposition 63, the "millionaires tax" for mental health services that voters approved in 2004.

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