Los Angeles officials have failed to safeguard the city’s growing homeless population as torrential storms approach, and instead are permitting rampant development that is driving more people into the streets, advocates said Friday.
Former Mayor Richard Riordan has ordered 1,000 tarps and 900 rain ponchos to help protect skid row’s homeless residents from the wet and cold, said longtime homeless activist Alice Callaghan, who is helping distribute the cold-weather supplies.
She said the action fills a breach left by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council members, arguing that they have offered little help for the 18,000 people sleeping on sidewalks and in alleys as the anticipated extreme weather of El Niño approaches.
“This city is bleeding and there is no concern out there,” Callaghan said. “It’s unconscionable.”
Garcetti and the council allocated $12.4 million on Wednesday for emergency relief, including $10 million in short-term rent subsidies for veterans and other homeless people and $1.7 million for shelter beds.
Garcetti and Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Jose Huizar, who represent San Pedro and downtown, respectively, did not respond to requests for comment.
Some council members have also called for opening church parking lots and access centers to the homeless during the extreme weather, but those proposals have not been enacted.
“When they announced public buildings and places of worship would be open for the homeless, I was encouraged but I don’t see any motion on that,” said Karen Ceaser, chairwoman of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s homelessness committee. “They’re out there fending for themselves.”
Ceaser and Callaghan said many homeless people prefer their tents to winter shelters, which operate only at night, leaving them to struggle during the day in cold, wet streets.
Garcetti was in Portland, Ore., on Friday at a meeting of West Coast mayors to address homelessness and climate change. Garcetti and the mayors of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Eugene, Ore., called for more federal funding for affordable housing and homeless rental subsidies, and requested changes in federal funding formulas that they say ignore the heavy rent burden in western states.
Callaghan criticized Garcetti for going out of town to “talk about homelessness” rather than doing something to address the anticipated weather and widespread displacement caused by soaring rents and development.
Callaghan said the city should declare a moratorium on apartment conversions until a plan is in place to save housing for the poor.
Gentrification also was a focus of a City Hall march on Friday by the South Los Angeles Human Rights Coalition. The protest, led by a group of churches, anti-poverty activists and affordable housing advocates, called for an extension of rent control and more low-income housing construction.
Jim Mangia, head of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in South Los Angeles, which runs 10 health clinics, said the homelessness crisis is having serious effects on public heath. Children are coming in with rat bites, and adults are going without medication or seeing their physician, he said.
“We’re very alarmed by the health conditions we’ve been seeing as hundreds of people are thrown into the streets,” said Mangia, whose group spearheaded the demonstration. “There’s not a serious response on the part of the city leadership.”