L.A. City Council calls for new plan to get homeless off the streets

Homeless people and their dogs set up camp along Florence Avenue in L.A.'s skid row.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Signaling a more assertive approach on homelessness, five Los Angeles City Council members introduced a measure Wednesday aimed at developing a comprehensive plan for getting 23,000 transients off the streets and into housing.

They want to create a council committee focused exclusively on the problem, which costs the city $100 million a year, according to a scathing report issued last week by City Administrative Officer Miguel A. Santana. He described the city’s response as fractured and dysfunctional — a conclusion council members said they agreed with.

Several described how homeless encampments, once largely confined to skid row, Hollywood and a few other spots, had spread across their districts.


“What’s happening in the city and the county is unconscionable and unacceptable,” Westside Councilman Mike Bonin, a co-sponsor of the committee motion, said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “For the most part we’re wasting our money.”

“None of us are proud of what we see in the streets,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo, another backer. Councilmen Jose Huizar, Herb Wesson and Curren Price joined their colleagues.

The discussion came as officials brace for the results of a countywide homeless tally taken in January, a count some officials fear could rise even amid a massive infusion of federal money aimed at housing veterans and the chronically homeless. The numbers, developed through a street count demographic analysis, are expected as soon as Friday.

The spread of encampments has created a political problem for city officials, who are inundated by complaints about trash and mentally ill and potentially violent homeless people. The outcry is particularly fierce downtown, where trendy bars and lofts have run smack into the tents and shopping carts of skid row.

In his report, Santana said $87 million of the indirect costs of homelessness go to the Los Angeles Police Department for arrests, skid row patrols and mental health interventions, and that “there appears to be no consistent process across city departments for dealing with the homeless or with homeless encampments.”

Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, told the council that important collaborations are taking place between his agency and city and county departments.

Lynn said a new information management system that is assessing every homeless person in the county and matching him or her to appropriate housing and services is a national model.

“We have won important infusions of federal aid because of the collaboration we’ve been able to show,” said Lynn, whose agency is jointly run by the city and county.

In addition to housing those sleeping on sidewalks, Lynn said officials must help those at risk of homelessness and stop the flow into the streets of people from jails and prisons, foster care and the military.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said that not everybody wants to leave the streets. Officials offered shelter to inhabitants of a freeway underpass encampment in his district, but the offer was “largely declined,” he said.

But he agreed a better plan could be effective.

“What’s been lacking is a central theme,” O’Farrell said.

Twitter: @geholland