Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, on her first day in office, declared a state of emergency to address the city’s out-of-control homelessness crisis, winning praise from some advocates while others criticized the plan as failing to address the root causes. The mayor office, meanwhile, stands by the move, telling Fox News Digital,” this is not rhetoric. This is action.”
Bass, who replaces Eric Garcetti, said disparate arms of government, the private sector, and other stakeholders, must develop a “single strategy” to confront this problem.
Los Angeles’ homeless budget for the fiscal year 2022 to 2023 was more than $1.1 billion – up from just over $800 million the previous fiscal year, according to the latest figures from the City Administrative Officer.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authorities (LAHSA) estimates that in 2022, around 41,980 people were experiencing homelessness on any given night in Los Angeles. That would suggest the city spends at minimum $27,835 per homeless person each year.
In some cases, that figure has been higher. A city audit disclosed earlier this year that costs for a housing project were spiraling out of control, hitting as much as $837,000 for each housing unit.
Many advocates praised the mayor’s state of emergency declaration as a much-needed step to address the homelessness crisis.
Anne Miskey, President and CEO of Union Station Homeless Services in Los Angeles, said she applauded Bass “for understanding the issue and showing a willingness to tackle the problem from day one.”
“While more is needed at the federal, state and local level, this is a great first step to cutting through the red tape and bureaucracy to house all our neighbors,” she said.
Gary Dean Painter, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California and Director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute, said the city council’s approval of the declaration “signals a strong consensus to various city departments that they need to work together more effectively than in the past.”
Still, he cautioned that the details of this plan would need to be specified in the coming months.
“It will be very important to specify the goals for the next six months so that the short-term and long-term actions to address homelessness are successful and so that our city government is transparent and accountable to the people,” he said.
Elizabeth Bowen, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo School of Social Work, said the declaration of the mayor’s state of emergency would only be effective if it enables the city to mobilize more resources, for permanently affordable housing.
She argued that the root of the homelessness crisis is the ongoing housing affordability crisis, “which is particularly exacerbated in southern California.”
“Without significant investments in affordable housing, policy success in addressing homelessness is likely to be superficial or temporary,” she said.
“Without significant investments in affordable housing, policy success in addressing homelessness is likely to be superficial or temporary.”
Christopher Hudson, a Salem State University professor who specializes in homelessness and mental health, told Fox News Digital he applauded the mayor’s intent but was skeptical about continuing to treat homelessness as an “emergency” as it has been since the mid-1980s.
“Unfortunately, treating homelessness as an emergency has too often just led to an emphasis on shelters, thus, perpetuating the problem,” he said, noting he didn’t see much that is new or original in Mayor Bass’ plan.
“She needs to put forward specific plans not only for the immediate ‘emergency’ response, but for addressing the many systemic problems that homeless individuals in LA face,” he said.
A California law enforcement officer who is familiar with the homelessness crisis told Fox News Digital he is doubtful anything will change this time around and criticized past administrations for failing to adequately address the problem.
“The fact of the matter is this. They have allowed homelessness and drug addiction to grow in numbers we have never seen before. Even if you were to build the Taj Mahal of homeless shelters, the community is so drugged out that less than 20% of them will actually utilize the facilities,” he said.
The officer said many people opt to stay on the street where they can “drink, do drugs, sell drugs, have sex in [their] tent” rather than staying in homeless shelters where they have to follow the rules.
“Homelessness is now a cancer that requires aggressive treatment. Until you ban encampments and sleeping on the streets, nothing will change. Unfortunately, we have to make living on the streets, uncomfortable and inconvenient, and basically force them into homeless shelters where services are available,” he said. “If declaring a state of emergency is the answer, then why wasn’t it done during Garcetti‘s administration?”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League said more officers would support the mayor’s declaration if it provided “more tools to address this humanitarian crisis unfolding on our streets.”
“Creating 15,000 new shelter beds in a year will be a daunting task, and we stand ready to support the mayor implement a comprehensive approach to alleviate the misery playing out for the world to see on the streets of Los Angeles,” a spokesperson said.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who has spearheaded various initiatives to tackle homelessness in his own city, said bureaucratic red tape is a major hurdle to addressing the crisis.
“The challenge is bringing along a county, state and, in some cases, a utility district, a water district or transit agency, where you’re trying to get land to be able to use to build an emergency or transitional center, for example. You have to convene a lot of others to tackle the problem,” Mayor Liccardo said. “And those agencies might be much, much less focused on that crisis than you are.”
To tackle the homelessness crisis, he said, cities are compelled to work with the counties, which control resources for mental health and services related to drug and alcohol treatment.
“If you’re trying to tackle the homelessness crisis, and you know that mental health and addiction are elements of that crisis, it’s very hard to do it without strong collaboration with the county,” he said. “So, there are lots of mayors who would love to be able to wave a magic wand and bring everyone into alignment. It is not easy.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office told Fox News Digital that the emergency declaration will help house the homeless, quicker than before.
“The order immediately gives Mayor Bass the power to lift rules and regulations that slow or prevent the building of permanent and temporary housing for the unhoused; to expedite contracts that prioritize bringing unhoused Angelenos inside; and to allow the city to acquire rooms, properties and land for housing for Angelenos in need.,” a spokesperson said.
“This is not rhetoric,” they added. “This is action.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.