Editorial: What happened to L.A.'s state of emergency on homelessness?

Homelessness “emergency” declared

People wait for a meal outside the Midnight Mission on Skid Row Sept. 23, the week that L.A. officials declared a homelessness “state of emergency” and pledged to spend $100 million to tackle the crisis.

(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

Eight weeks ago, Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the Los Angeles City Council stood on the grounds of City Hall and declared a state of emergency on homelessness. Their actions since then, however, have hardly lived up to that billing.

What the council really did that day was introduce a motion to declare a state of emergency “as it relates to a shelter crisis.” Then it went on recess. Two council committees eventually met in mid-October and discussed how to declare a state of emergency while not breaking city and state laws, prompting them to ask the city attorney to report back with options. That report arrived Friday. On Tuesday, the full council will finally take up the Sept. 22 motion. If they vote to approve it, the city attorney will draft an ordinance declaring a state of emergency. Or maybe just a shelter crisis. That’s up for discussion too.

This whole process has been more of a turgid civics debate than an urgent response to a desperate situation.

This whole process has been more of a turgid civics debate than an urgent response to a desperate situation. Homelessness is one of the most intractable problems facing the city of Los Angeles. But the supposed state of emergency proclaimed almost two months ago is looking increasingly like a farce and a waste of time.


That said, the motion, coauthored by council members Mike Bonin and Gil Cedillo, does list a few credible steps that could temporarily aid the estimated 19,000 people who sleep outside, unsheltered, in the city each night, such as authorizing the use of city-owned properties for emergency shelters, toilets, showers and safe parking, and allowing nonprofit organizations to provide shelter and safe parking on their property without having to go through an onerous approval process. These measures could help shelter homeless people relatively quickly as a rainy winter arrives.

But these are not real solutions to the homelessness crisis, which demands more permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, rapid rehousing of the newly homeless and transitional housing for all those in between. Granted, the motion would allow the city to fast-track building permits for affordable housing, but the main hurdle to such projects isn’t permits, it’s funding. And where those dollars are going to come from remains uncertain, despite the pledge by Garcetti and the council to create a housing fund of up to $100 million.

So enough with the hype and the mere pretense of urgency. At the very least, the council should pass the motion, enact the ordinance and allow the city to set up more temporary shelters for homeless people — because this really will be a dire emergency if those are not in place by the time El Niño starts to drench Los Angeles.

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