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.

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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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Preparing for Disasters 26 Years After the Northridge Earthquake

Twenty six years ago today our region was rocked awake by the 6.7 magnitude Northridge Earthquake which left 57 dead, almost 9,000 injured and caused billions of dollars of damage up to 90 miles from the epicenter. This event remains one of the worst natural disasters to face our city and this anniversary reminds all of us that these sorts of emergencies can happen at any time.

At the time I was working for Congressman Howard Berman and I will never forget the devastation our community faced. Our office was red-tagged and we converted an old jail into our district office so we could distribute needed supplies as we tried to coordinate multiple levels of relief efforts. From FEMA, SBA to other agencies, we successfully got assistance to help Valley residents but the quake forced us to become a better prepared city for any and all natural disasters we might face in the future.

It was not easy to get a $14 billion aid package approved by Congress- at the time there was a fight about ‘offsets’ that could have severely reduced the amount of funds that would come to our region. We have seen similar fights in Washington around natural disaster funding in recent years. While we avoided the prediction that the San Fernando Valley would become a ghost town, victims of Hurricane Katrina were not as lucky and the government was far less effective. As we have seen fire season expand to year-round in California, I still worry that we need to be more self-reliant.

As climate change continues to make our summers hotter, droughts more severe, and fires larger and unpredictable, emergencies such as fires and floods are more likely and can happen at any time with little to no warning. Every year we see situations like the Woolsey and Hill Fires. Those fires burned approximately 70,000 acres and about 250,000 people were evacuated in total. Within hours people were evacuated and many were housed in my district at locations such as Taft High School, Pierce College, and Canoga Park High School. Also several hundred animals from horses to dogs to turtles had to be rescued.

It didn’t matter that the bulk of the fire was not in the City of Los Angeles. The fire didn’t recognize City boundaries, so my staff and I joined countless volunteers and put boots on the ground to help the victims. Just like the Northridge Earthquake, we saw that a vast amount of Angelenos were under-prepared for emergencies. The ‘Big One’ shouldn’t be treated like a hypothetical- it’s not if, it’s when.
There are easy steps that all of us can take today to be more prepared such as:

• Have a ‘go bag’ in the car and in your home. This includes emergency rations for you and your pets, water, a first aid kit, extra clothes, prescription drugs, batteries and things like a transistor radio.

• Download the new ShakeAlertLA app (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/shakealertla/id1445922632) to your iPhone or Android so you are warned before impending earthquakes.

• Have phone numbers and contact information written down on paper in a safe place.

• Designate a friend or loved one who lives far away to serve as the point of contact for your family to check in with in case local communication is not working properly.

• Put some cash away just in case ATMs/the internet goes down.

If you want to learn more about how to be better prepared for natural disasters and my work on this issue, please go to http://blumenfield.lacity.org/emergency_preparedness.


Blumenfield Responds to False Accusations from Digital Billboard Robocaller

Throughout many communities in LA, a malicious hoax has been perpetrated against Angelenos. An anonymous automated caller has been spreading lies about my position on the digital billboards. To be clear, these messages are outright lies. I continue to stand against the billboard blight and there has not been any new legislation that would allow digital billboards to be put all over our community.

 

Again, this robocall was part of a massive misinformation campaign to confuse and mislead folks about digital billboards. To clear the air, no ordinance has been adopted by the Council. I have not supported allowing digital signage or billboards in our community.

 

The conversation around allowing digital billboards has spanned over a decade and there continues to be ongoing debate about the pros and cons and potential tradeoffs. Councilmember Harris-Dawson recently proposed a framework for potentially allowing digital billboards under strict circumstances, but much will have to be hashed out before the Council even considers this proposal.

 

Removing blight from the West Valley is a priority of mine and before any motion is taken up in City Hall I will always reach out to the community to listen to residents’ thoughts and concerns. I have firmly stood in favor of removing blight from the West Valley- such as when I put a ban on unhitched trailers.

 

Furthermore see the article below by Streetsblog refuting the misinformation campaign: https://la.streetsblog.org/2019/10/18/dont-believe-the-robocalls-electronic-billboards-arent-coming-back-next-year/ 


Equal Pay LA

LOCALLY IMPLEMENTING SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS’ PROPOSAL, COUNCILMEMBER BLUMENFIELD CALLS TO CLOSE GENDER PAY GAP WITH ‘EQUAL PAY LA’

 

LOS ANGELES, CA Inspired by a bold new proposal from US Senator Kamala Harris, today Councilmember Blumenfield launched ‘Equal Pay LA,’ a new local effort, co-presented by Councilmember’s Monica Rodriguez, Mitch O’Farrell and Nury Martinez, to close the gender pay gap and hold bad actors accountable. Currently women in the United States are paid $0.80 cents to the dollar compared to what their male counterparts make and the burden of proof remains on the shoulders of the employee, rather than the employer.

“After hearing about Senator Harris’ proposal to hold corporations accountable for the gender pay gap, I knew Los Angeles should lead the way by implementing her idea locally,” said Blumenfield. “We really need to have a paradigm shift where instead of a worker having to fight for what is right, we should hold corporations accountable for continuing this injustice. Though California has the lowest pay gap compared to other states, anything short of complete equality is unacceptable.”

Councilwoman Nury Martinez said, “Since I’ve been in office, fighting for equal pay has been one of my top priorities. So much that I worked to remove all questions about salary history from City job applications to close the gender wage gap. It is ridiculous that in 2019 women across the United States are still getting paid just $0.80 cents for every dollar paid to men. As a City, taking this important step forward in ensuring women get paid equally as men for a hard day’s work, is the right direction in creating a more equitable future for the next generation. It’s the right thing to do, especially now, when women's rights are under attack.” 

"It's simple -- women deserve to be paid as much as men for equal work," said Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. "Latinas on average make $0.53 cents for every dollar paid to men. We must close the gender pay gap to ensure that women of all backgrounds are compensated fairly."

According to a recent study on gender pay inequity from the National Partnership for Women and Families, the median annual pay for a woman who holds a full-time, year-round job is $41,977 while the median annual pay for a man who holds a full-time, year-round job is $52,146.

Pay discrepancy is abhorrent when the statistics are broken down by race. African American women are typically paid $0.61 cents, Native American women $0.58 cents and Latinas just $0.53 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Eliminating this pay gap could equate to more than a year of food, seven months of mortgage payments, ten months of rent or one year of tuition at a state college. 

Senator Harris’ proposal outlines how companies would have to obtain an “Equal Pay Certification” and disclose pay data to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If a company is found to be paying workers with similar responsibilities different salaries based on gender, they will be fined 1% of their profits for every 1% wage gap. Those fines would then be reinvested into programs such as paid family leave or medical leave. Blumenfield’s motion specifically directs Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) and the City Attorney’s Office to explore avenues to apply Senator Harris’ proposal to hold businesses accountable on the local level. This includes having local departments report back on options to implement a citywide equal pay law for employers with more than 100 employees, to ensure companies in Los Angeles verify their workers are not paid differently based on gender and using established enforcement mechanisms to expand worker protections.

Currently city ordinances prohibit employment discrimination due to race, ethnicity, religion, marital status among other protected classes, but no city law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work by employers. CA Labor Code § 1197.5 provides a right of action for an individual who has been paid unfairly. The City of Los Angeles would go one step further and place responsibility for compliance on the employer rather than just on the employee. Inequity harms the individual and also negatively impacts the city when there are pay gaps, so it is imperative to ensure that employers comply, and the city should have the ability to take its own punitive action, to address inequity.

Blumenfield concluded, “The time is now to try and correct the institutionalization of pay inequity. Making sure people are paid fairly should not be controversial. My hope is that folks around the country listen to what Senator Harris has proposed and see what we are trying to do here in Los Angeles, so they can work toward a more equitable future in their own communities.”

Councilmember Blumenfield will host a media availability tomorrow, May 23, at noon in the Media Room behind the Council Chamber. Details to follow.

 

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The Need for 85.02

Yesterday the City Council voted unanimously to extend LA Municipal Code 85.02, the law that guides where people can live in their vehicles and prohibits doing so in a residential zone. This law had been in effect for the past few years, but it has to be extended every six months. Unfortunately, it had lapsed for a few weeks during the Council recess because it wasn’t scheduled for its extension vote prior to the recess.

The law itself, 85.02, was a necessity given by a court ruling that vacated the City’s prohibition about dwelling anywhere in the city in one’s vehicle. A few years ago the courts ruled against the city in Desertain v. City of Los Angeles. In response, the Council was forced to draft an ordinance (85.02) to allow people living in vehicles some legal places to go. This was the only way to maintain a prohibition in residential areas. It was meant to be a temporary fix until either enough housing was available to legally allow the city to reinstall its citywide prohibition against vehicle living or until another solution could be found.

According to the most recent LAHSA Homeless Count, there are over 16,000 people across LA County living in their vehicles, many of whom have jobs and are struggling to maintain a sliver of stability. 85.02 isn’t about criminalizing homelessness, it is about making sure that our communities have some basic health and safety protections. Living in one’s vehicle should never be normalized — people need housing and our streets shouldn't be campgrounds. Though the West Valley has fewer homeless people when compared to other communities in the City, my staff and I receive calls about encampments, RV dumped waste, and problematic issues related to people living in vehicles. We also see real people struggling without viable alternatives other than living in their vehicles.

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LAHSA 2019 Homeless Count Results Unveiled- What it Means for the West Valley

Published in Valley News Group Papers June 6, 2019

Anyone who drives Ventura Boulevard, rides the LA River Bike Path, or walks their neighborhood knows that the West Valley is in the midst of a homelessness emergency. Even though the area has fewer homeless people than any other part of the city, it is still a human tragedy for those experiencing homelessness, a quality of life issue for the entire community, and a moral issue that tears at our collective soul.

The 2019 LAHSA Homeless Count results released this week are both awful and frustrating, but they reflect some progress that we must continue to build on.  Homelessness increased 12% in the County to 59,000 people, and 16% in the City to 36,000.  Ventura, Orange and Kern Counties saw double, triple and quadruple the increases we saw in LA County. Throughout the City there was an 8% increase in homeless families and youth homelessness rose 24%. More seniors became homelessness with a 7% increase and folks 55-61 went up almost 20%. Also, the number of homeless women increased 14%. Since 2018, a whopping 63% of homeless people are homeless for the first time and 29% have a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder. In my district there was a substantial increase from 607 to 885 people on our streets. One of the most shocking facts is that homeless people who have experienced domestic violence (DV) spiked 42%, with well over 12,000 DV victims on our streets.

At the same time, more than 20,000 formerly homeless people now have homes, and 90% of folks who enter Rapid Re-Housing are staying housed. LAHSA has expanded their legal services, helping avoid evictions and mediating with landlords to prevent tenants from becoming homeless. With Prop HHH funds, 10,000 units are in the pipeline and 1,400 supportive units will open this year. But, right now more people are falling into homelessness for the first-time and we must continue to push for more innovative policies that will both help lift people out of homelessness and help prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.

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