As the threat of El Niño looms, Los Angeles has been taking steps to ensure a smooth and uneventful winter for residents not used to so much precipitation. While most people will grapple with drainage issues and late trash pickups, another group of Angelenos is facing the prospect of a much more hellish winter season—for the city's rapidly growing homeless population, who are sometimes forced to take shelter in storm drains and riverbeds, the consistent rains of El Niño could be punishing and potentially deadly. The city of LA is taking a small step towards ensuring some of its homeless population has a roof over its head when the rains start falling. The Downtown News reports that the city has allocated $12.45 million from its general fund to go toward "rapid rehousing" of homeless during the wet winter months.
The $12.45 million is coming from the $100 million the mayor pledged this summer for housing and serving homeless residents. Of the new allocation, $10.1 million will be focused on rehousing efforts, with $5.1 million earmarked for homeless veterans. The remaining $2.35 million is going to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, including $1.7 million for an expansion to the winter shelter program. Another $550,000 is for technological upgrades and $100,000 will be spent on grants for housing resource centers. The resolution is expected to help provide housing for about 1,000 people through vouchers. The winter shelter expansion will add 440 beds, bringing the total number of homeless in off the street during the wet winter to just shy of 1,500.
Unfortunately, this funding is just a drop in the bucket. Despite plans to house 1,440 homeless Angelenos, the total number of those remaining without homes is still quite daunting. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the homeless population in Los Angeles has increased 12 percent since 2013, jumping from 22,993 to 25,686 people in just two years. The winter shelter program isn't even enough to fully house Council District 14's homeless population. That district alone, which includes Downtown LA, has 3,800 homeless residents.
Mayor Eric Garcetti talked a big talk in July when he took to Skid Row to announce his "war on homelessness," promising a "battle plan" within a month. In September, the mayor and seven City Council members doubled down on their efforts, designating $100 million dollars to solve the homeless epidemic they officially classified as a "state of emergency." Two months later, the battle plan still hadn't emerged, but some of its "main pillars" were announced. In November, the assault had morphed into what the LA Times called a "loose framework of strategies" to curb homelessness, and the fervor to formally treat the situation as an "emergency" had vanished. Turns out it was more of a rhetorical emergency.
Even worse, because LA officials can't get their homeless numbers down, they risk losing federal homeless assistance from the the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Any city that fails to decrease its homeless population faces a penalty when applying for federal money—LA stands to lose $28 million out of the $108 million in federal money it requested.
On top of all this, Garcetti still has not identified where the $100 million in pledged money will even come from. Aside from the $12.45 million allocated on Wednesday, the whereabouts of the other $87.55 million remains to be found. So, just a few months removed from a fiery declaration of war, and despite a generous winter housing program, the city still seems on shaky ground in respect to it's homelessness epidemic.
Another important factor to consider is just where City Hall's allegiances actually lie. All this "War on Homelessness" talk from Mayor Garcetti began just one month after he signed an ordinance into law that made it dramatically easier for the city to seize homeless peoples' property and fine them to boot, a move some critics have called the criminalization of homelessness. As development in Downtown LA continues to inch closer and closer to Skid Row, the city will have a delicate balancing act between pleasing the young wealthy folks moving in and serving the vulnerable population that has limited options for relocation.
As it stands now, LA is able to produce just a fifth of the homeless housing it needs to meet the growing demand. At this point, a "loose framework" of strategies will most likely not put a dent in the problem. Committing to this is a fulltime thing. For a mayor also involved in retrofitting an entire city for earthquakes, making the streets more people-friendly, and actively bidding for the Olympics, Eric Garcetti may have bitten off way more than he can chew. The mayor is expected to release a report on the city's plan for homelessness in January. Hopefully it's much more than rhetoric.
· As El Nino Approaches, Concern Rises on Skid Row [Downtown News]
· Los Angeles Producing Just a Fifth of the Homeless Housing it Needs Every Year [Curbed LA]
· Los Angeles Passes New Rules to Just Take Some People's Stuff [Curbed LA]
· Mapping the Widespread Homelessness That Runs Throughout Los Angeles County [Curbed LA]