Garcetti Heralds L.A.'s Progress, Touts Plan For Homeless Shelters
Mayor Eric Garcetti, fresh off a trip to Iowa to test the waters for a presidential run, delivered a State of the City address Monday that billed Los Angeles as a thriving, progressive metropolis that has hiked the minimum wage, snagged the Olympics, invested in its subway system and is tackling big issues such as climate change and gun violence.
"I want to say to anyone who wants to understand who Americans are: Don't look to D.C. — come to L.A.," Garcetti said, heralding "an era of growth and of change in L.A."
But the most pressing issue in Los Angeles, by far, is the tens of thousands of people bedding down on its streets.
In his City Hall speech, Garcetti announced that he would commit $20 million for emergency shelters to help get people out of squalid encampments that have popped up across the city, part of an overall increase in homelessness spending.
The mayor detailed his plan to fund new tents, trailers and other forms of emergency shelter — a program he is calling A Bridge Home — as he seeks to rally communities to "confront the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our time."
The new program marks a shift for Garcetti, whose administration has focused chiefly on building housing rather than temporary shelters, an approach backed by many homeless advocacy groups. His proposal is an acknowledgment that the city has been unable to keep pace with the number of people falling into homelessness.
"We need to stand up more emergency shelters fast and we need to do it now … shelters that serve as a rest stop on the path to permanent housing," Garcetti told the crowd of politicians, business representatives, union leaders and neighborhood advocates gathered in the City Council chambers.
Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion voter-backed bond, will help build supportive housing over the next 10 years, but "homeless Angelenos can't wait years to get off the streets. We need more options for bringing them inside now," Garcetti said.
In all, Garcetti said his budget would put nearly $430 million toward the crisis next fiscal year, including more than $238 million generated by the housing bond that voters approved a year and a half ago. The mayor also plans to speed up shelter applications and sign an emergency declaration allowing the city to bypass "red tape" that slows construction, he announced Monday.
The mayor also reiterated a frequent refrain that across California, "homelessness isn't an issue, homelessness is the issue."
Homelessness has become the defining challenge for Garcetti, one that looms especially large as the 47-year-old Democrat flirts with running for president and travels to South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa. For politicians who prefer clear and resounding victories, it is a nettlesome issue, one that several in City Hall have quietly compared to the Vietnam War.
If Garcetti runs for president, "you can imagine the commercials that they will show in Iowa or New Hampshire," said Bill Parent, a UCLA lecturer in public policy. "By the time the primary is over, people in Iowa are going to be able to draw maps of skid row."
Garcetti's new proposal comes amid growing pressure inside and outside City Hall to come up with solutions.
Two councilmen had urged the city to come up with a plan to shelter everyone on the streets by December, lamenting in February that there was "scant evidence of any progress" toward fixing the tattered shelter system. Activists have staged protests and camped outside City Hall to push for urgent action to shelter homeless women.