[CORRECTION] City Council Declares Shelter Crisis

Photo taken in Los Angeles in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Photo taken in Los Angeles in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

CORRECTION: BASED ON INFORMATION GIVEN TO US BY A PATH REPRESENTATIVE, WE INCORRECTLY REPORTED LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILMEMBER MITCH O’FARRELL CONTRACTED PATH FOR THREE YEARS IN MARCH 2013, BUT ACCORDING TO A REPRESENTATIVE FROM O’FARRELL’S OFFICE, THE COUNCILMEMBER ACTUALLY CONTRACTED THE ORGANIZATION FOR TWO YEARS IN MARCH 2014.

LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles City Council voted November 17th to declare a crisis—but not a state of emergency as originally requested—regarding homeless shelters, opening both literal and figurative doors to those seeking to help the city’s homeless population.

If approved by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as expected, several new temporary shelters will now be allowed to open in various non-profit, charity and city-owned buildings citywide.

Los Angeles Municipal Code requires that the council declare a shelter crisis exists before any new shelters can be established.

The declaration will also allow for “Safe Parking” programs for homeless individuals who live in their cars to be implemented across the city. This means they will have overnight access to secure parking lots and in some cases, public restrooms.

The vote to adopt the motion, put forth by Council District 1 representative Gilbert Cedillo and Council District 11’s Mike Bonin, was unanimous among the 14 councilmembers present. Paul Krekorian, who represents CD2, which spans from Studio City to Sun Valley, was absent.

According to the motion, “More than 25,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles, and two-thirds of them go without shelter on any given night.”

Homelessness has been a hot button issue as of late, with reports of NCIS actress Pauley Perrette being attacked by a homeless man in the Hollywood Hills November 12th, a growing Los Feliz encampment cleared from Hollywood Boulevard in August and two controversial ordinances passed in July, which allow for any personal property left on city grounds to be confiscated.

The council agreed in a separate vote November 17th to revise the ordinances to remove their criminal and financial penalties and to identify more storage facilities for confiscated items.

Garcetti, who came under fire by homeless advocacy groups for allowing those same ordinances to pass, is expected to release his Homelessness Strategic Plan in January. He announced his intent to “declare war on homelessness” at the grand opening of a mixed-use housing project near Skid Row last July.

Additionally, City Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) authored two motions related to homelessness November 17th, one requesting the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency (LAHSA) report on the possibility of privately funding recently de-funded city-run domestic violence and homeless veteran shelters, and another suggesting the implementation of a unified call number, such as “211” for residents wishing to report issues related to homelessness.

Ryu also authored two motions in September requesting increased access to mental health and substance abuse services for the homeless.

But amid budget cuts, some wonder how the city will fund such initiatives.

Jack Humphreville of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council said in a City Watch editorial November 3rd that Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson are seeking to use $100 million of the city’s $393 million reserve fund to finance new housing and services for the homeless.

This is unwise, said Humphreville, as “the [r]eserve [f]und is not intended to finance ongoing programs.…Rather, it is designed to be used in the case of real emergencies such as an earthquake or unanticipated budget shortfalls.”

Meanwhile, a November 5th audit by the City Controller’s office showed that from 2013-2014, the city failed to collect between $15 million and $91 million in fees from developers designed to reduce the impact of commercial, industrial and residential developments on the city.

Revenue from such fees can be used for a variety of purposes, including building affordable housing, according to state law.

The audit also showed instances of the city not using development fees already collected—money which may have to be refunded if it remains unspent.

In the meantime, organizations such as the East Hollywood Los Feliz Homeless Coalition (EHLFHC)—who recently partnered with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) following an EHLFHC fundraising effort last year—are working to compensate for funding shortfalls.

According to PATH Regional Director Tescia Uribe, most homeless organizations rely on federal or district funding.

But occasionally, she said, a grassroots community organization will take matters into their hands as EHLFC did, raising funds to contract PATH locally instead of waiting for district funding to trickle down.

Los Angeles Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell contracted PATH for three years in March 2013 to provide services in CD13 two days a week. Thanks to funding from EHLFHC, PATH was able to begin serving CD13 full time in September.

Additionally, the EHLFHC funding has allowed PATH to broaden their reach to other areas, including Hollywood and Los Feliz.

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