The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, Dec. 20 to become partners with the city of Los Angeles and its new mayor, Karen Bass, by creating a joint effort to tackle the thus far intractable problem of homelessness.
By unanimous vote, the supervisors directed the county to join the state of emergency in effect in Los Angeles since Dec. 12, which enabled the creation of a city emergency operations center and, by cutting red tape, intends to fast track measures for temporary and permanent homeless housing.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declares a state of emergency on homelessness at the city’s Emergency Operations Center in Los Angeles on Monday, December 12, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Initially, the L.A. emergency homeless plan — the first act of Bass’ administration — will try to get the unhoused off the streets and into motels, a process similar to Project Roomkey during the early years of the pandemic. Next, Bass said approvals for new housing units would be speeded up to 30 to 60 days, instead of several months or years.
The county of Los Angeles would bring in “wraparound” services for the newly housed, such as treatment for substance abuse, mental health counselors, medical care and supplemental food programs through county departments including the Department of Public Health, Department of Mental Health and Department of Public Social Services.
In the past, the city and the county disagreed on how to alleviate homelessness in Skid Row and were jointly sued by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights. The county settled the case in September and agreed to spend $236 million through June 2027 on services for the homeless and permanent housing.
“We need to link arms, rather than point fingers,” said Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn, who authored the motion. “It is important for the county to be the city’s partner.”
Bass made her first appearance before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to explain the emergency declaration and answer questions on how the county can work with the city, and vice versa.
“Today’s vote represents a sea change in how the county and the city of Los Angeles will work together on homelessness,” Bass said.
“On day one you get them housed. And also on day one, they have services,” the mayor added. “That is only possible with a deep partnership between the city and the county.”
The number of homeless in Los Angeles County has reached 69,144, and most — about 42,000 — are within the city limits, according to the Los Angeles County Homeless Count conducted in February 2022.
Hahn’s motion orders each of the county departments to appoint an executive to attend city of L.A. meetings for the emergency program, known as Inside Safe, by Jan. 15, 2023. By Jan. 31, the county will establish liaisons to work with city outreach teams, connecting those who are unsheltered to county services. By Feb. 15, the county will create teams to work with the city providing new emergency housing, and to connect those in need with county services.
Many nonprofit agencies that provide support for the unhoused in the county testified in support of the new approach.
“True partnership can make a world of difference,” said Zeke Sandoval with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), a nonprofit that has assisted the homeless for 40 years, mostly in the city of Los Angeles.
The supervisors appointed county CEO Fesia Davenport as the second deputy incident commander in the city of L.A.’s Incident Command, a group that will make decisions during the emergency, much like after a flood or earthquake. Davenport said the county will follow recommendations from its Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness but also will “double down on our commitment to be in closer partnership with the city of Los Angeles.”
Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger said of the closer partnership with the city, “I’m committed to ensuring the county is connecting its services and has a seat at the city’s problem-solving table —and that’s what this motion will ensure. We’re all in this together,” Barger said.
As part of the motion, if any of the 88 cities in L.A. County declare a homeless emergency and move toward housing the homeless, they can ask for help from the county’s service departments. “For any of the other cities in the county, we will be with you side-by-side to support your efforts,” Hahn said.
Ronson Chu, senior project manager for homeless services at the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, told the board he has been in contact with a motel owner in the Harbor Gateway area who is interested in signing a master lease for unhoused individuals.
Chu said he is working closely with the city of L.A. and expects to meet with newly elected L.A. City Councilmember Tim McOsker in a few weeks. “We are hopeful with the mayor’s new declaration this will speed things up,” Chu said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
Bass said the city of L.A. has attracted interest. “We have received calls from people who want to offer either apartment buildings, or hotels and motels,” she told the supervisors.
Barger said she will introduce a motion to streamline building temporary and permanent affordable housing in county unincorporated areas. First District Supervisor Hilda Solis used as an example the Care First Village interim housing project on Vignes Street, which provides 232 beds and was built in six months.
Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell intimated that the county’s Department of Mental Health is stretched thin and may have difficulty providing additional onsite services. She said the department has a 25% employee vacancy rate. “This is a sector that has been under-invested,” she said, and finding psychologists to fill job openings has been tough.
Hahn directed the county Public Defender’s Office to increase its mobile team visits to homeless individuals who have legal barriers to leasing a home or apartment.
Money for new housing is available though the county’s Measure H, passed by voters in 2017, which could raise $355 million each year through September 2027. City of L.A. voters passed Measure HHH in 2016, enabling the issuance of $1.2 billion in bonds for permanent or temporary housing. And in November, L.A. voters approved Proposition ULA, a tax on valuable properties sold or transferred in the city, which is expected to raise $600 million to $1.1 billion a year for affordable housing and tenant assistance programs.
First District Supervisor Solis asked Bass if the county could qualify for some of the ULA funds as part of a joint effort to build housing and provide services.
“There might be some flexibility there,” Bass said.
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