Progress, challenges in Bass’ first 100 days

| March 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

Nearly 4,000 housed

Mayor Karen Bass gave an overview of the progress and challenges of battling homelessness at a discussion at City Hall on March 15 in her offices.

Joined by her team, she told a group of reporters, “We want to do a deep dive to let you know all that is being done… I’m very proud of the team we’ve assembled, not just to show for 100 days, but to solve this problem.”

The mayor said that approximately 4,000 formerly unhoused people would be sheltered by her 100th day, March 21. She was confident she is on target to shelter a total of 17,000 homeless people in her first year.

Much of what the mayor told the group echoed what she had told the Larchmont Chronicle in a conversation we had with her shortly after her election and move into  the mayoral residence at Getty House in Windsor Square.

In that interview, featured in the February issue of the Chronicle, she said that when President Biden had recently announced he wanted to alleviate homelessness nationally by 25 percent in two years, she didn’t hesitate to tell him:

“Just come to Los Angeles; if you come here, you can actually reach your national goal.” It was a statement she repeated at the press roundtable last month.

Early on in her term, she declared a state of emergency to release funding and cut red tape to help battle the crisis of 42,000 people living on the streets of Los Angeles.

Since then, of the 4,000 newly housed, about 1,000 Angelenos have been moved into motels as part of her Inside Safe program. It’s an expensive option, Bass acknowledged, but a necessary one while more permanent solutions are sought.

“We are in a disaster. This is an emergency… saving lives is costly,” explained the mayor’s chief of housing and homeless solutions, Mercedes Marquez.

One motel in Council District 5 was just that — very costly — so Bass’ team is looking at an alternate; a former nursing home in the area. The team hopes to work out a deal soon.

Inside Safe

MAYOR KAREN BASS discusses permanent supportive housing project under construction in Van Nuys with developer Sonya Falcone, while Downtown Women’s Center board member Cindy Starrett listens.

So far, Inside Safe has targeted 13 locations, including at Sixth Street and Fairfax Avenue where about 40 people were moved from the sidewalk in February.

The remaining people sheltered so far are benefitting from programs initiated before Bass’ tenure and that recently have been seeing fruition, largely funded through Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion bond passed by voters in 2016.

“Fortunately, I am the lucky recipient able to do all of the ribbon cuttings,” Bass said.

Of the 4,000 scheduled for housing within the mayor’s first 100 days, the actual total released from the mayor’s office on March 22 was 3,873.

Inside Safe has housed 945 people. There are 1,336 in interim housing, such as tiny home facilities, of which 36 people entered under Bass’ tenure. Emergency vouchers went to 883 people, of which 143 vouchers are credited to Bass’ team, and she extended a lease at the L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown to house 235.

Another 615 permanent housing units were financed through Prop HHH, while Bass helped secure some of the 94 vouchers provided to veterans.

Bass’ overall “locking arms” strategy includes city, county, state and federal governments joining forces and looking for acres of public land across the city and purchasing or leasing buildings, especially in gentrified areas, so residents can stay in their homes and neighborhoods — in hopes of preventing homelessness in the first place.

Tenant protection from eviction is in place, but many people do not know about it, said Bass.

To rehouse people in sidewalk encampments, several days of outreach before the move-out day and providing wraparound services are key to the program’s success. Then, once a street dweller  moves off the sidewalk and out of a tent, “a connection to permanent housing is vital,” said Va Lecia Adams, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and former CEO of the St. Joseph Center.

Homelessness czar Marquez said Inside Safe helps bridge the connection between street and permanent housing, a transitional step that had been lacking. So far, every city councilmember has asked for Inside Safe to visit his or her geographic area.

The mayor’s team expects progress to move exponentially going forward. “We’re further along in three months, because we’re learning how to scale,” Adams added.

City Council allocated Bass $50 million for the homeless effort. So far $4.4 million has been spent, and $27 million is obligated, leaving $19 million. Bass told us she expects another $200 million from the state and federal governments.

Take back parks

All Angelenos are encouraged to get on board this effort to house people, from landlords, who will be subsidized and encouraged to accept vouchers, to neighbors helping people move into local hotels and other sites with welcome packs of soap and sheets.

“I think it’s a way for all Angelenos to get involved,” Bass said. “Everybody’s got to get skin in the game.”

Once an encampment is cleared and cleaned up, nearby residents need to take back public spaces with activities and sports events. If just one tent shows up, residents need to call the city before a whole community has sprouted on the property, Bass said.

When asked about homeless on the subway, Bass said she is looking into a real estate strategy to provide interim housing and get homeless people out of the public transit system, including working with police and sheriff departments. “We need more services there.”

To her surprise, she told us, there have been no arrests or mental health issues during the initial Inside Safe program. And, regardless of what street dwellers say beforehand, everyone has accepted the offers and moved indoors.

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