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So Why Are the Homeless Missing In the 2022 Elections?

THE EASTSIDER - There is a lot of talk about the homeless this election year, but is anyone really addressing their plight? You decide.

LA Mayor

In recent articles, the LA Times Steve Lopez seems to find more similarities than differences between Karen Bass and Rick Caruso’s plans for the homeless. 

As Lopez characterized Bass in a recent interview:

“I don’t think I have necessarily big ideas,” Bass told me, but she had no trouble spelling out in depth how she wants to put her compassion, outrage, legislative know-how and connections to work not just to reduce homelessness, but to end it.

I always get suspicious when a politician talks about ending homelessness with a set of promises that sound more like a wish list than a plan of action. Is that even possible in a state with million-dollar shacks, widespread poverty and underperforming schools? Is it possible when much of what we see on the streets is a result of forces beyond local control, with an economy that crushes far more people than it elevates?

And yet, if the notion of ending homelessness is naïve, Bass doesn’t sound at all unaware of the complexities she’d be taking on. 

And of course, Caruso got the same treatment in an earlier article: 

Building 30,000 beds — if he can pull off such a feat — is not the same as rebuilding 30,000 lives. Poverty, physical and mental health problems and addiction are entrenched. Many of the services for those issues come under county rather than city purview, and to get people housed long term would require a massive investment in outreach and follow-up.

If the county can’t do a better job than it’s now doing in those areas, Caruso said, the city will take over. Again, that’s a monumental undertaking that wouldn’t be cheap or quick, and Caruso’s matter-of-fact confidence makes me wonder whether he has a deep enough understanding of the complexities.

No doubt, many are cheering Caruso on, and buying his message that if you’ve lost faith in the political establishment of a city that’s a crime-ridden and corrupt cesspool, he’s your guy. 

Personally, I think that there are vast inherent differences. The most important is that Rick Caruso is not beholden to the democratic party. Remember, the Mayor of Los Angeles personally appoints all of the members of every Board and Commission in the City of Los Angeles. Think of all the indictments under Garcetti. 

We all know that Garcetti filled them with cronies, party hacks, and Bass would be beholden to the same group of party insiders. Caruso can appoint who he wants, like maybe some people who bring knowledge and ability to the table. 

For example, Caruso could replace the head of the Neighborhood Council system with someone who could read the Charter instead of a bureaucratic empire builder like Raquel Beltran who has created a personal top down fiefdom.  Cool.  Like Neighborhood Council people who want to find local solutions to homelessness. 

The City Council

For what it’s worth, the City did sign off on the LA Alliance lawsuit, even as the County went the other direction.  How much this will help the homeless is a real question, however.  At the US News noted

The city's actual housing commitment will be based on the 2022 point-in-time count of homeless people, which is still underway. Last year's count was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of January 2020, there were more than 66,400 homeless people in Los Angeles County, with 41,000 within LA city limits.

Under the agreement, the city would create shelter or housing for 60% of homeless people in the city who do not have a serious mental illness, substance abuse disorder or chronic physical illness.

The city, which does not have its own health department, contends the county is obligated to provide services and housing for people with those problems but is failing.

“What we need to do is call on the county to step up and do their part,” Martinez said.

Los Angeles County responded in a statement that repeated its assertion that the settlement only applies to LA's Skid Row.

“As for the County, we remain steadfast in our focus on addressing homelessness as a regional crisis affecting people and communities in all of our 88 cities as well as in the unincorporated areas,” it said. 

Of course, at the same time they are settling a lawsuit, the Council is getting even crazier over their nefarious Ordinance 41.18, which you can find here.

The header to that document characterizes it “to specify the particular times and locations where it shall be unlawful for a person to sit, lie, or sleep, or to store, or place personal personal property in the public right-of-way.” 

It’s been a debacle, so of course the Council has recently made it worse by deciding that there can be no homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers.  Honest. A block away, cool. 

As the LA Times noted, here’s why this latest idiocy is worse than the existing statute: 

The measure would represent a dramatic shift in the city’s approach to homeless encampments, rewriting a key aspect of an ordinance that was finalized only last summer following weeks of contentious debate.

The existing anti-camping ordinance allows the council to prohibit camping on sidewalks around parks, libraries and schools. However, enforcement cannot occur until the council has reviewed a specific location and voted to give the go-ahead to clear it. 

And oh yes, believe it or not, now they’re going after bicycle parts!  Honest.  It’s called Ordinance No 56.15.3 of the code, and would “prohibit the assembly, disassembly, sale, offer of sale, distribution, offer of distribution, or storage of bicycles and bicycle parts on public property.”  You can find it here. 

As StreetsBlogLA explained the Busciano bombast: 

“Buscaino offered no data to support the claim that the bikes seen at encampments were indeed stolen, either in the motion itself or in his remarks to council. Nor did he appear interested in attempting to distinguish between people doing legitimate scavenging and repair work to help keep themselves and their unhoused and lower-income neighbors rolling and those engaged in actual criminal activity.

Instead, he went on the offensive, declaring he was “miffed” that some of the councilmembers objecting to his motion had also objected to the anti-camping ordinance and seemed intent on “sending a message that anyone anywhere in the city can block any public right of way that belongs to the public” and that “thieves have free rein.” 

Yes sir, they’ll pretend to care for the homeless even as they use them as a wedge prop in their attempts to keep their day job fronting for the developers. 

A strong Mayor can make a difference here, and as one of the biggest developers in Los Angeles, Caruso can’t be bought. 

The County

If you think the City is screwed up, LA County, who is charged with most of the support systems like mental health, interim housing support, and rehousing, remains in full disarray. They have two ‘new’ strategies that will really be groovy - just ask them. 

As I wrote a few weeks ago, first we have the County who decided to sue over a proposed settlement between the homeless, the City and the County to help reintegrate them into our society: 

To add insult to injury, they have taken the political dodge of setting up yet another useless entity to delay help.  As I characterized it at the time in CityWatch: 

As posted in the Revised motion by Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis, “The goal of BRCH was to provide a factually compelling and actionable recommendations reflecting the urgency for refined governance models that can deliver improved and accelerated results incorporating the diverse needs of the Los Angeles region, its 88 cities, and the unincorporated communities of the County.” 

If you don’t believe me, check out the full 112 page Report and Recommendations from the BRCH Committee, which you can find here. 

I’ll save you the time, and simply list the recommendations from the Amended Motion by Barger and Solis. 

1) Establish a County Entity and Identify a Leader

2) Measure H/Local Solutions

3) Streamline LAHSA

4) Continuation of Care Leadership

5) Improve LAHSA Operations

6) Data and Metrics

7) Executive Level Action Team  

Can you feel the awesomeness of these strategies? Maybe by 2024 or so, they will finish the recommendations.  Or not.  Supervisor (and Chair of the Board of Supervisors) Hilda Solis won her final re-election by something like 73% and is accountable to no one in the last term. More likely, the County will still be doing the bureaucratic boogie complete with new dance steps and no solutions. 

The Takeaway

Of all of these people, the only one who stands a chance of actually doing anything is still Rick Caruso.  If he says he can build 30,000 units of housing, I believe him. It’s at least doing something. And do not underestimate the power of being able to choose every Board and Commission member in the entire City. 

In the meantime, I’m still trying to chase the LAHSA bureaucracy down the rabbit hole.  The current quest is trying to find out who exactly is ‘Hope of the Valley’, the service providers who seem to have most of the contracts here in Northeast LA to ‘help’ the homeless. 

Like what is their history, how did they obtain preference over a number of other providers to LAHSA, why does a large chunk of the homeless community think they do a crappy job, and what ties do they have to the politicians like Kevin De Leon in CD14, and/or friends within LAHSA.  So far nothing, but I’m going to keep on digging. 

More later. 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)