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Hoping That the Homeless Count Comes Up Short

DEEGAN ON LA-That sucking sound you may hear coming from City Hall could be the deep inhales from politicos hoping that when they exhale the results of the annual homeless count will be better than last year -- a time when the very bad news was an increase of 12%.

That was a personal worst for politicos and the city, despite millions of dollars dedicated to creating housing for the homeless. This year’s count takes place January 21-23. 

Top of mind for some politicos in even-numbered council districts who are up for reelection, must be the certainty that voters will be considering how these candidates have helped solve the homeless problem in their districts and the city. Voters will decide in the March 3 Primary who they want in office. Last year’s homeless results were not published until June 4, so voters on March 3 will not have empirical proof in the way of statistics, but will need to rely on their own counts of how many single homeless people or tent encampments they pass every day in their neighborhoods. 

There's a clique of LA politicos that keeps trying to push good news about how the homeless problem, now expanded into a public health crisis, is on the way to being solved. On the other side, there’s the public that knows it sees, and can’t understand what the politicos are talking about. It's hard to message good news about solving the homeless crisis when the homeless are so visible, everywhere across the city. 

It's been reported in the past few days that Mayor Garcetti and President Trump are “quietly working out a deal” on how the Federal government may be able to step in and assist both the city and the county to ease the homelessness crisis. 

It's reported that federal lands and financing and prioritizing mental health issues for the homeless are on the agenda. No word yet on how much money may be part of the package. 

The president was quoted as saying, “[if] the city or state in question is willing to acknowledge responsibility, and politely asks for help from the Federal Government, we will very seriously consider getting involved. . . ” Garcetti, the politest of mayors, will be in Washington soon for a mayor's conference and is expected to meet with administration officials. 

June, or thereabouts, could bring a welcome doubleheader of news: a reduction in the homeless count numbers, and an increase in attention from the Feds. Everyone could wind up a winner, except for some of the incumbents if voters don’t want to wait for a federal bailout, although most council members have made at least incremental gains on the homeless crisis in their districts. 

But the worst-case scenario could see the president using the lure of federal support as a foil to accent how badly a “liberal city like Los Angeles” deals with its humanitarian crisis. Previously, at his fandom-based rallies, he’s gotten huge response by excoriating LA (and San Francisco) for failing to make progress in solving the homeless issue. 

Speaking about the president’s attitude concerning the homelessness crisis, California Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) recently told the Washington Post, “yet again this is bravado for the base with no interest in the actual policy experts’ recommendations to solve an issue.” 

If helping win a national election by using the homeless as an issue -- and shaming the “liberals” who haven’t been able to solve the problem -- is the gambit, then the losers will not be the liberals but the homeless, which will be very unfortunate.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Photo: CNN. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.)