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After scathing report, councilman calls for L.A. homeless panel

After scathing report, councilman calls for L.A. homeless panel
Miguel Hernandez, 50, drinks water outside the tent where he lives along the Arroyo Seco and the Pasadena Freeway in one of the many encampments that have spread this year beyond skid row. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Responding to a scathing report describing the city's homelessness policy as dysfunctional, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar is calling for a new council committee to develop a comprehensive strategy for getting people off the streets and cleaning up encampments.   

"The city really has no policy on homelessness," Huizar said in an interview Tuesday. "It's a disjointed effort with no coordination internally."

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Huizar said his proposal, which he plans to introduce at the council meeting Wednesday, grew out of the chief administrative officer's report last week.

It found that the city spends $100 million a year to cope with its 23,000 homeless residents without a consistent approach or policy. Most of the money goes to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Federal officials say the city and county, along with a private-public partnership called Home for Good, have become more effective and collaborative in dealing with homelessness. Even so, the city report underlined funding and organizational problems.

Huizar said the committee would provide a single forum for coordinating the council's homelessness initiatives, which currently bounce from committee to committee.

It would also thrust Huizar to the forefront of the effort to clean up skid row, which is in his district and where an explosion in homelessness and mental illness has been assailed by downtown's new, affluent residents.

Homeless encampments have spread out of downtown, plaguing other parts of Huizar's district and that of council President Herb Wesson.

Huizar said he had Wesson's support.

"It's a crisis," Huizar said. "There's no accountability in the city for who's responsible for homelessness."

General Jeff Page, a skid row activist, said he welcomed Huizar's initiative, and hoped it would lead to swift action.

"For years we've been saying there is no sense of urgency," Page said.

Huizar, who plans to chair the committee, said he would renew his appeal for a homeless czar to preside over the city bureaucracy, as well as a new joint powers authority with the county.

His czar proposal has languished for eight months in committee, Huizar said. The city and county already have a joint agency, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, but Huizar said it has to deal with 88 cities as well as unincorporated communities and doesn't have the focus he would like on Los Angeles' 23,000 transients.

Huizar's other proposals include:

-- Expand the $3.7 million Operation Healthy Streets, which cleans up homeless encampments on skid row and Venice Beach on a stepped-up schedule.  Only two sanitation teams are available to clean up  encampments citywide, he said.

"It takes months," he said.

-- Increase funding to link the LAPD's mental evaluation units to other city departments. The teams of two LAPD officers and one county mental health clinician intervene with the seriously mentally ill, but often are not available for emergencies.

-- Raise the city's contribution to pay for homeless outreach workers. The city contributes  $330,000 in general fund money to support the homeless authority's outreach teams, which are drawn from 19 people covering the entire county.

-- Require developers seeking zone changes or other considerations to contribute to the affordable housing trust fund for construction of affordable and permanent supportive housing for homeless people.

-- Spread homeless services, which are currently concentrated on skid row, throughout the city.

Huizar said he has the support of Council President Herb Wesson and expects to work with Mayor Eric Garcetti.

"It's not the be all or end all," he said. "But we can't continue to ignore this problem."

For news on homelessness and poverty, follow @geholland.

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