- James Preston Allen
Triage is the only right-now solution
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
The 2019 Los Angeles Homeless Service Agency report landed like a bombshell on the county and city of Los Angeles. Countywide, the numbers surged 12 percent but in the city they were even higher at 16 percent. Councilmen Mike Bonin and Joe Buscaino both accused other cities of dumping or pushing the homeless into Los Angeles, yet it appears that the vast majority of Los Angeles’ homeless population are indeed our own.
The third largest increase in the City of Los Angeles was in Buscaino’s own Council District 15, which had a 45 percent increase since 2018 — an increase of 810 souls. This is obvious as the growth in the number of unsheltered people on the corner of 9th and Beacon streets in front of the U.S. Post Office.
In a released statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti called the homeless crisis, “the second worst disaster we’ve ever seen in the Golden State” since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. On the other hand, Buscaino is still ordering homeless sweeps weekly in his district and the unsheltered are still getting tickets that will go to warrant and never be paid. This, even after he admits, “homelessness is not a problem we can arrest our way out of.”
One week ago, we received the sobering news that LA’s homelessness crisis is getting worse. There are now 36,300 unsheltered Angelenos in our city — a 16 percent increase over last year. Recent statewide data shows that California has a total of 129,972, so we are not alone in this. However, LA is the epicenter of the problem.
While the percentage increases are shocking the actual number of homeless people in the state makes them .003 percent of the total population of 39.56 million which doesn’t diminish either their suffering or significance. This makes one wonder why this few or many people, depending on your perspective, could become such an intractable problem?
The answer, according to the LAHSA report, boil down to three factors: wages have not kept pace with rental costs; LA County has 721,000 households that are severely rent burdened (people who are spending 50 percent of their income or more on rent); and there is a shortage of some 516,946 affordable units. This, while the city has stalled for years on reaching its goal of 15 percent affordable units in all new developments, as we race to “gentrify” specific areas of the city and county.
The bigger issue is that real estate in California is a big business — much of the rental housing is owned by real estate trusts and hedge funds, while individual home ownership declined in the last decade. This is troubling as local government has continued to move out of the public housing model to public–private partnerships like the current plan to redevelop the Rancho San Pedro into a mixed-use development with 458 market rate housing and one-for-one replacement of 478 units of existing low-income units. Even with 132 new affordable home-ownership units the actual need there would be more like a three to one replacement with perhaps 150 units of supportive housing targeted at the homeless. This might address one third of San Pedro’s homeless population.
Gentrification is a double-edged sword that brings both benefits and deficits. It is the deficit side of the development ledger that is now showing the civic and human cost of not doing enough. It is becoming far too clear with the recent homeless report that the numbers are going in the wrong direction. Gentrification without mitigation isn’t working.
So, if the mayor is actually calling this a disaster, then he should be treating it like a disaster. If, as he suggests, this is like an earthquake, then he should call for a state of emergency and ask Gov. Gavin Newsom for help and set up triage centers with safe camping, parking and sanitation off of the public right-of-ways immediately. He would be calling on the Red Cross, the California National Guard and ALL the city agencies to lend a hand in solving the immediate crisis of sheltering the homeless. This would buy time for the city bureaucracies and the NIMBY’s to get their minds around the Bridge Home temporary shelters and the developers to put their shovels in the ground and the city to expedite building.
Even so, the number of affordable units that can be built with bond monies allocated do not come anywhere close to accomplishing the task, which means that both new rent controls and different design models (read small homes or reused containers) should be considered. And the city has to get back on track to mandate 15 percent affordable workforce housing in every single development approved.
We either do this or we will develop a permanent underclass of workers who can’t afford to live anywhere in the entire county. We risk social upheavals as Los Angeles has experienced in times past if we don’t. This is, of course, on top of the threat to public health that we are now seeing in the more densely concentrations of homeless encampments. If left to fester, this could turn this disaster into a plague that spreads beyond the homeless camps and the offices in downtown Los Angeles City Hall. Mayor Garcetti, let’s not wait for this to happen. You risk truly tarnishing yours and this city’s reputation.
I have said it before but I’ll repeat it again for those who weren’t paying attention: Triage is the only right-now solution to start solving the homeless crisis. We need to set up crisis centers, move people into the bridge home shelters and get them into permanent, supportive housing.