MRT on Point

It’s Time to Answer the Alarm (part two)

Originally featured in the July 12, 2023 edition of the Praxis newsletter

By Mark Ridley-Thomas Ph.D.

In Part One of “Its Time to Answer the Alarm,” we focused on the latest statewide data on homelessness, the PIT count, LAHSA and LACAHSA. Now I think we have to address the critical ingredient: LEADERSHIP.

I have asserted frequently and proudly how impressive the leadership of Mayor Karen Bass has been in addressing homelessness in Los Angeles. She, more than any other elected official, has sounded the alarm. It is not uncommon for her to remind us of the urgency of the state of homelessness in Los Angeles. It is fair to say that Mayor Bass recognizes the crisis, and seeks to address it as such. For her, it is not simply a political priority, it is a moral imperative.

Mayor Bass’s leadership has been catalytic in the sense that she has respectfully insisted that the City of Los Angeles accepts responsibility for its homeless population. That means all citywide officeholders – Mayor, City Attorney, City Controller; plus the 15 City Council Members, and all 41 department heads, from the airport to the zoo.

Clearly the crisis is deepening. That is why consensus, structural reforms and more resources are required. There is no substitute for leadership, and in light of the alarm that has been sounded, there can be no acceptance of excuses. Homelessness abhors neglect and it defies bad policy.

Any City policy that insists on enforcement based on Municipal Code 41.18 without the adopted or updated “street engagement strategy” is not addressing the systemic challenges that homelessness represents in the required comprehensive manner. This is not a new matter of debate. Nonetheless, it is a necessary issue to keep in the forefront because of the known tendency to seek quick fixes and pursue placebo policies, rather than grapple with problem solving in search of long-term improvements and better outcomes for affected individuals and impacted communities.

Mayor Bass has engaged the President of the United States, the Governor of the State of California, the United States Conference of Mayors, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Los Angeles City Council in an attempt to focus attention on this crisis. She is working extremely hard. She is all in.

Questions: “In your opinion, what’s missing? What would that look like for you? Are we doing our part to help her sound the alarm, and confront this crisis head on? ”

Stated bluntly, Mayor Bass needs a range of partners to address this crisis properly, principal among them is the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. I have maintained in my PRAXIS columns, in order for LA to have a fighting chance to deal with homelessness, the City and County MUST work together far more effectively. It has to be a “hand in glove” relationship.

The City is responsible for land use: sidewalks, roads, buildings, etc. The County, on the other hand, is the caretaker of what we call the “safety net,” which funds an extensive array of social services, health care and treatment options.

The County’s 2023-2024 budget is $43B. Health and Human Services comprise 56% of that budget. In other words, this allocation undergirds the safety net—DCFS, DPSS, DHS, DMH, DPH, OPD and more. The BOS has allocated $600M for its Homeless Initiative, $500M of which is generated through Measure H funds.

The City and the County should formally review their joint homeless plans issued in 2015 and then, with intentionality, jointly develop nothing less than a comprehensive coordinated campaign that would include Housing for Health, Inside Safe, the Homeless Initiative and more.

Question: “Who on the BOS will rise to the occasion and take the most powerful group of local elected officials in the nation to an unprecedented level of leadership in addressing homelessness in this region?” In other words, “Who will answer the alarm?”

Part Three of “It’s Time to Answer the Alarm” will address Measure H and future funding. Stay tuned.