Garcetti declares ‘shelter crisis’ to address homelessness: ‘It’s the moral thing to do’

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a “shelter crisis” today to provide emergency housing to some of the estimated 25,237 unsheltered homeless residents who call the city home.

As part of the declaration, the city will ease or eliminate restrictions on new homeless shelters, allowing them to be quickly built on land owned or leased by the city. It will also ease the process of establishing shelters at existing churches and nonprofit centers.

“This is the right thing to do,” Garcetti said. “It’s the moral thing to do.”

The crisis declaration is more meaningful after the passage of a new state law that allows cities to expedite ground-up construction of new shelter housing on publicly owned property. That housing will give homeless residents a place to stay while they get connected with necessary resources to find permanent housing, Garcetti said.

The mayor also announced the inclusion of $20 million in his proposed 2018-19 budget that would be divided among all 15 council districts to help fund new shelter facilities expected to add about 1,500 beds, which Garcetti said could support up to 6,000 residents in a year.

Homeless advocates have criticized the mayor for what they say is a lack of urgency in addressing a homelessness crisis that has left more than 40,000 residents unsheltered countywide.

Over the weekend, supporters of the #SheDoes movement camped out in front of City Hall demanding additional resources for homeless women, who are often victims of domestic violence and experience high rates of sexual assault.

Mel Tillekeratne, founder of the Monday Night Mission and a leader of the movement, tells Curbed that the shelter crisis declaration is a step in the right direction—though he’d like to see more shelters specifically established for vulnerable residents like older women.

“The longer people are on the street, the more they are exposed to violence and stress—and the more likely they are to become chronically homeless,” Tillekeratne says.

He says the declaration must be rolled out quickly to be effective.

“Anyone can present a plan,” Tillekeratne notes. “The key is when the doors open.”

Other homeless advocates are more skeptical.

“The mayor needs to do a lot more,” says Pete White, director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

White says he’s concerned with a feature of the mayor’s budget that provides increased funding for sanitation workers tasked with cleaning city streets and sidewalks peppered with belongings and makeshift residences.

Activists have long complained that street cleaning—and enforcement of local laws that limit the number and size of possessions residents can keep with them at one time—criminalize homelessness and result in the loss of residents’ personal possessions.

According to Garcetti, the new sanitation financing will be tied to the ability of council districts to create more shelter space, ensuring that street cleaning would mainly occur after homeless residents had moved indoors.

White, however, has doubts. “Those resources are always linked to criminalization,” he says.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the city of Los Angeles has less than 8,000 shelter beds to serve an unsheltered population more than three times than number.

The shelter crisis declaration would be the latest in a series of moves to quicken construction of both short-term and permanent housing geared at the homeless.

Last week, the City Council approved one ordinance that allows owners of old motels to easily convert them into temporary housing, and another that accelerates the approval process for developments that include supportive housing with affordable rents and on-site services like counseling and job training. Garcetti signed both bills Monday.

Opponents of those ordinances warned that they could be used as “trojan horses,” giving developers the ability to quickly construct dense developments in low-slung areas.

Garcetti, for his part, suggested Monday during his state of the city speech that the passage of ballot measures H and HHH had given local leaders a mandate to find housing for homeless residents as quickly as possible.

He also expressed readiness to stand up for projects aimed at the homeless in the event of local opposition.

“I will be there,” Garcetti said. He promised to remind project opponents that “the choice isn’t whether to bring people to the neighborhood or not; it’s whether to house people who are already there.”

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