Update on Judge Carter- Shelter Beds Are Key to Progress on Homelessness

Published with the Valley News Group on June 25, 2020

In the first three months of 2020, Woodland Hills made the most 311 service calls related to homelessness in the City, even though it has fewer homeless people than the vast majority of LA’s communities (see here).  The best way to reduce calls is moving people off the street, and the key to that is building new shelters in the West Valley. Whether people like the idea or hate it, we simply must create more beds in our communities in order to move people off the street and have some ability to enforce anti-camping laws.

I understand why people are calling, frustrated by the growing encampments — especially under freeways.  I’m frustrated too. Despite sending City CARE teams to the underpasses every week, personally going to these sites with LAHSA workers, the attempts I’ve made to enact special high transit corridor legislation, and offering every underpass dweller in my district refuge at one of the temporary COVID Rec Center shelters, the underpasses are still encampment hotspots.

Like so many of my constituents, I’m tired of it, of people not receiving lifesaving services, and of being told that Court decisions prevent the City from moving tents, bulky items, or having much control beyond briefly enforcing ADA access. It’s not right for nearby communities or for the people living in squalor, breathing the exhaust.

Hope for positive change is on the horizon.  Because of a new agreement reached between the County and City of Los Angeles, two major stumbling blocks to progress are being removed.  Of critical importance, this agreement is being overseen and will be enforceable by a Federal Judge, David Carter. He is the Judge that presided over homeless cases in Orange County, is presiding over the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights v. L.A. case, and has spent months meeting with local leaders grappling with the real world impacts of homelessness.

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Time to Establish a New Community- Based Public Safety Program to Address Non- Criminal Matters

Today I co-authored a measure directing city agencies to report on establishing a community-based public safety program to respond to calls on noncriminal matters involving mental health and homelessness.  

Everyday LAPD officers respond to non-criminal calls because we simply don't have any other mechanism to immediately address these needs. It’s unfair to ask officers to do the job of a social or public health worker and it’s wrong to perpetuate the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness. The time is now to rethink how we use our resources to meet these needs and get healthy outcomes.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has made significant investments in training officers so they are able to perform community-oriented duties that may fall outside the parameters of traditional policing, such as responding to calls involving drug overdoses or mental health crises. These are calls for which an armed, uniformed response may not be most effective. Responding to these calls takes officers away from regular patrol duties and impacts their ability to respond to other calls for service. Such calls might be better managed by civilian responders who are specially trained in handling noncriminal issues.

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Release of the 2020 LAHSA Greater LA Homeless Count Results

Today, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released the results of the 2020 Homeless Count and it shows a 13.6% (41,290) rise in homeless in the City of LA and a 12.7% (66,433) increase across the County of LA. In 2019, the rehousing system helped 22,769 people get into permanent housing, which is an unprecedented and impressive increase in placements. But, the sad reality is that more Angelenos are falling into homelessness than ever before. Though the council district specific numbers won’t be available for a few more days, it’s projected to show that the West Valley still has among the lowest homeless population compared to other communities in the city, but that doesn't negate the very serious humanitarian and quality of life crisis we still face.
 
We must do better to meet the need for shelter, permanent housing and services and I am hopeful that a negotiated settlement or district specific consent decree will enable a quantum leap in progress. I have had several meetings with Federal Judge David Carter who is presiding on the case that could yield this outcome, and a first step injunction which will enable us to provide shelter for those living under the freeway underpasses and simultaneously keep those underpasses clear is close at hand.
 
One thing remains very clear, we need more housing. Renters in LA County need to earn $41.96 per hour — 2.8x the City of L.A. minimum wage or about $87,000 per year — to afford the average monthly asking rent of $2,182. According to the 2020 CA Housing Partnership report, LA needs 509,000 new affordable housing units to meet current demand.
 
It’s a good step that 18,395 people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County were sheltered, up from 14,722 the previous year, a 27% increase. The impact of the “A Bridge Home” program was seen in the 39% increase in the City of Los Angeles sheltered population, from 8,944 to 12,438. Additionally 700 Permanent Supportive Housing units (PSH) came on line this year and 2,360 more units will open in the next 12 months.
 
However, here are some very troubling insights the report outlines:
 
• 20% increase in seniors 62+
 
• 45.7% increase in families
 
• 59% of newly homeless cite economic hardship as main reason
 
• 35% of unsheltered adults 18+ have a history of domestic, intimate partner and other sexual violence
 
• 19% increase in transition-aged youth (18-24)
 
• 555,105 of LA households are severely rent burdened
 
• 80% of unsheltered Angelenos have lived here for more than five years and two-thirds of unsheltered Angelenos became homeless in Los Angeles County
 
• There are glaring racial discrepancies as 8% of the overall population is black, but black people represent 34% of the homeless community
 
• Also this year LAHSA restructured survey questions on substance use while confirming previous estimates of mental health conditions. 14,284 unsheltered people (32%) report substance use, roughly double the prevalence under the previous methodology. 26% of unsheltered, or 11,711 people, report long-term mental health conditions.
 
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ONEgeneration Weekly Food Bank Drive-Thru Month of May


Donating to Non-Profits during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Friend,                                                                    

Our West Valley non-profits are on the front lines in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.  While they may not be providing direct medical services, they are providing food, supplies and other essential support for people who are being impacted by the virus medically and financially. Many of these non-profits are experiencing a spike in community need at the very same time they are losing resources. Food Pantries have long lines and more clients than ever, while at the same time, many of their regular donors are not giving because either their businesses are closed, or they no longer have overstock groceries to give. Also, many of their regular volunteers are staying home because they are in a high-risk category because of age or underlying condition.

I’m writing to solicit your help. Please join me in donating funds to these important West Valley non-profits. I have re-organized my district office discretionary budget to free up more than $100,000 and I have donated all of this money to the below listed West Valley non-profit organizations. These are all groups with whom I’ve worked with throughout the years and know first-hand about their extraordinary work. Each group filled out a simple donation application form where they described their need and how they would spend emergency funds. Please consider making a donation to any or all of these organizations.

For your convenience, I have hyperlinked each organization’s website below so that you can see for yourself what they need and read about their mission. It would mean a lot to our community and to me if you are able to help by donating. Also, please send me an email about your donation, so that I can thank you properly, and I can keep track of the totals.

Also, please be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get time-sensitive local updates. My team and I are doing a lot of creative things to help fight against this pandemic and help provide relief for residents. And, if you or someone you know needs help, please contact my office at (818)774-4330 so that we can connect you with that assistance or the person or organization that can help.

These are trying times but we will get through them. Thank you for considering this appeal. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Take care.


Update on Homeless Efforts in COVID-19- Questions From Our Town Hall

The COVID-19 emergency has disrupted events, schools, businesses, families, and city services, it has also had an impact on homelessness.  In an effort to prevent many more people from falling into homelessness, emergency critical policy changes such as an eviction moratorium, a two week paid sick leave mandate and immediate financial aid programs have been enacted.  And, in an effort to help prevent the virus from ravaging the homeless population and endangering nearby communities, the City and State are attempting to reduce the density of existing homeless encampments and offer refuge for homeless people by opening up emergency shelters in hotels, motels and at certain Recreation centers.  While thousands of homeless people have accepted this emergency shelter, many of the encampments in the 101 underpasses and throughout the City are looking worse than they have previously. While COVID-19 is part of the reason that tents are staying up and more visible, there are several additional factors that are important to understand. 

Recently I hosted a COVID-19 telephone town hall with medical and small business experts to explore facts and resources and offer our community an opportunity to ask questions on these topics.  Out of the more than 100 questions which were asked but not covered during the limited time of the call, about a dozen were on homeless-related topics.  Consequently,  I am attempting to answer these questions in this written format.  

In short, no one should have to live on a sidewalk under a freeway, it is not a humane way to live. And, no one should have to feel afraid to go for a walk in their own neighborhood or have their sidewalks blocked by tents, clutter and debris. If the City could move everyone into a shelter or into supportive housing today we would do so.  If the City could force drug addicts into drug treatment programs or force very mentally ill people into treatment, it would. The Courts have told us that once there are enough housing or shelter beds available for most of the homeless in the City than we can then enforce the anti-camping laws that are on the books that currently they do not allow us to enforce.  And,  the County Public Health Department which is the lead during the Pandemic (the City doesn’t itself have a health department or health programs) has determined that it is safer for everyone not to force people to take down their tens during the daytime, but to leave them where they are as the moving them around during this pandemic risks a faster spread of the virus. 

Hot spot encampments like the 101 underpasses persist  even though we go out with LAHSA to meet with homeless people to offer services and shelter. Sanitation comes for trash pickup but has a very limited ability to remove bulky items.  A very recent Court case (Garcia) made it extremely impractical to remove couches, mattresses and other bulky items from encampments which used to be removed routinely.  Although we work with LAHSA and law enforcement to try to get people off the streets and enforce ADA compliance (3 feet passibility on sidewalks), there are still too many unsheltered people on the streets throughout the City and in my district. 

Why are some Rec Centers being used as homeless shelters and will they return to normal after the crisis?

In March the Mayor ordered that Recreation centers throughout the city be converted into temporary homeless shelters because the city needed facilities to give unsheltered people sanitary conditions to live through the COVID-19 emergency.  It is extremely difficult to shelter in place, if you have no place.  His selections were based on ADA accessibility and facilities with hot showers. The Woodland Hills Rec Center is the only one in my district and it is hosting 35 people in the gym and ten more in FEMA trailers in the parking lot.  The trailers are being used for seniors (age 65+) and people with underlying health issues who are not infected by the Virus. After the pandemic, the Rec Centers will transition back to being Rec Centers.  They need to be Recreation Centers because of the important role they play in our community and because the City Charter requires it. 

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My Meeting with Judge Carter on the Future of Homelessness in LA

An abridged version of this article appeared in the LA Daily News on April 19, 2020

Exploring a solution for homelessness has been vexing, heartbreaking and frustrating. As a City we have allocated more than $1 billion, yet more people are on the street despite the progress we’ve made toward new temporary and permanent housing.  The COVID-19 crisis has created a new health urgency to get people off the street and into temporary beds at Recreation Centers including Woodland Hills and local hotel/motel rooms. 

Homeless people were already dying on the streets at an alarming rate, but the Pandemic could exponentially increase those numbers in ways that would shock the conscious of even the most callous among us.  Furthermore, the pandemic has made it painfully clear that the horrid conditions people without shelter live in do not just impact the greater community’s mental health/conscious, but can literally impact its physical health as well.   

When the pandemic is over, we will be at a homelessness crossroads and have to decide whether to return people back to the streets or find the fortitude and funding to keep them sheltered — even if those shelters are less than ideal.

In the past basic shelters such as safe parking, tiny houses, hotel/motel repurposing, and sanctioned encampments as we’re seeing at the Westside VA  have been opposed both by homeless advocates who viewed it as an abandonment of the higher, more noble vision of permanent housing and by community activists who believed that such housing would degrade their neighborhood and would be a magnet for more homelessness.

I did not imagine that it would be possible to unite these two opponents around the common purpose of providing more shelters until a few days ago when I met with Judge David O. Carter of the US Central District Court in California who is presiding over a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for failing to protect public health and safety and to provide homeless shelters. Honestly I was very apprehensive about meeting the Judge that blocked Orange County’s effort to clear homeless camps along the Santa Ana River trail, but who ultimately helped put together a settlement which forced more shelters to be opened. Since Judge Carter was coming to my district to see firsthand the unique aspects of homelessness we face in the city’s West Valley, I wanted to show him.

Judge_Carter_1.jpg

I candidly shared my concerns about the restrictions, impractical mandates and contradictory rulings that his Federal Courts have foisted upon the City when it comes to addressing homelessness.  This included the recent ruling (Garcia) that makes it extremely difficult to remove bulky items, the ‘Boise’ decision that neutered anti-camping laws, the Jones settlement that dealt with sleeping on the sidewalks, etc.  All of these decisions partly explains why encampment hot spots appear to be growing, creating greater health and safety issues despite the fact that more people have been provided shelter over the past several weeks than ever before.

I let him know how I get many complaints from legitimately frustrated local residents about our encampments, and about the anger many of them justifiably express.  We talked about how frustrated the police get with the rules and how crazy it is that someone can literally be killing themselves with drugs or be severely mentally ill but not be ‘gravely disabled’ enough under State law to be forced into treatment or safe shelter. 

 

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Recap of Emergency COVID-19 Emergency City Council Meeting

Yesterday, we held a historic emergency Los Angeles City Council session to tackle many critical COVID-19 related issues right now. We passed measures that will:

  • Protect renters by prohibiting COVID-19 related evictions, be they financial, health or other;
  • Require paid sick leave for workers left out by new federal mandates; and
  • Add new sanitary protections for workers and require grocery stores to set senior-only shopping time.

We also took a big step to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 financial catastrophe.  And, we did it all remotely during the first virtual LA City Council meeting using video conferencing and telephone call-in for public comments.

During the eleven-hour meeting, we heard voices from all around the City, folks who recently lost their jobs worried about making rent, ‘Mom and Pop’ landlords concerned about mortgage payments and their nest egg, small business people persevering to open doors and keep workers employed, and many other struggling Angelenos. Some were angry, others grateful, many had helpful ideas, most were concerned and just wanted solutions. We listened, debated issues, amended proposals, and we voted on legislation.

We passed an eviction prohibition during the pandemic that is one of the strongest in the country and goes well beyond Governor Newsom’s. Even so, some wanted it to go further to prohibit all evictions, even those necessitated by criminal activity, destruction of property, etc. That amendment did not pass, but because of language that Councilmember Koretz introduced and I seconded, we were able to strengthen tenant rights during this emergency by ensuring that you can’t be evicted for:

  • Having too many people in your rental (providing elderly relatives refuge, etc.);
  • Excessive noise that naturally happens when kids are home all day; and
  • Other understandable COVID-19 related situations when families are practicing quarantine and self-isolation.

Because civil court closures prevent evictions right now, the moratorium will be most helpful when the emergency is over. Its protection gives nervous renters some peace of mind. Included in the eviction moratorium ordinance is an important provision that allows renters to pay back missed rent that occurred during the COVID-19 emergency time frame, over 12-months after the emergency declaration ends with no interest charged or late fees levied on back rent payments. Landlords will be given some mortgage payment delay/flexibility by the Federal and State governments that will help them manage these delays in rental income.

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COVID-19 Update March 20, 2020

Yesterday Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced stay home orders throughout the County of Los Angeles to stay home due to the rising threat of COVID-19. This order is very serious and is meant to help save lives, but it is not a “lock down” – you can still leave home for essential trips including:

  • The grocery store and pharmacy
  • Outside for exercise (please stay six feet from others)
  • The doctor’s office
  • Local restaurant for takeout
  • Essential errands to hardware stores, laundromats, etc.

Please do not:

  • Gather in groups more than 10 people
  • Take children to playgrounds or other high-use areas
  • Go to work if you can telecommute
  • Travel outside of the city
  • Visit elderly family members if they are in an assisted living home or have compromised immunities

The intention of this order is to protect as many people as possible by decreasing potential exposure. If we all do our part, we will get through these unchartered waters together.

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Coronavirus Updates- 3.17.2020

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, this morning the City Council convened to pass emergency legislation such as an eviction moratorium as well as to come together with city departments to discuss the collective response to the emergency. We plan to continue to meet weekly throughout this crisis and I will update you with steps taken.

Moving forward, the most important thing we can do collectively is continue to abide by social distancing and wash our hands thoroughly. Governor Newsom has advised that everyone over age 65 stay at home, and I urge you to do so if you are over 65 or are immunocompromised in any way. Even if you are young and healthy, for the sake of others and potentially someone you love please take these steps to avoid spreading this virus.

With at least weeks more of these measures projected by the CDC, one of the issues I’m worried about is loneliness among seniors. If you have an elderly family member or neighbor, please give them a call and see if they need anything. Even though my parents live across the street, one thing I’ve started doing is ‘face timing’ with them during dinner so our family can at least share that small but important slice of normalcy while avoiding direct contact.

 

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