The fact that homelessness occupied just a few minutes at the end of a recent mayoral election debate is evidence of how low one of the city’s most serious problems ranks on the civic agenda.
With homeless encamped from Skid Row to South Los Angeles to the Westside and over the mountains deep into the San Fernando Valley, the matter certainly deserves more time and attention.
The candidates were limited to a minute each on the subject at the Temple Beth Israel debate earlier this month. But each gave it a shot. City Controller Wendy Greuel said she would end homelessness but was vague about how she would do it. Attorney Kevin James said he would convert unused city buildings to shelter the homeless. City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she would fight for more county funds for Los Angeles, where large numbers of the homeless are found. Councilman Eric Garcetti pointed to his efforts to create housing for the homeless in his Hollywood district. Emanuel Pleitez spoke of harnessing private capital.
An extended discussion of homelessness would have revealed much about the candidates’ philosophies, knowledge and politics. For the subject touches many societal troubles—mental illness, substance abuse, recession-caused unemployment and the needs of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On veterans, Katharine Russ called attention on the CityWatch web site to the frustratingly slow efforts of the Veterans Administration to provide housing and rehabilitation facilities on the largely empty VA hospital grounds in West L.A. She noted that Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver in 2004 proposed that three buildings be used for housing and therapy but work has started on only one and it won’t be completed until after 2014.
As for the VA hospital grounds, I want to know how the next mayor is going to lead us through a stubborn VA bureaucracy, and how she or he will overcome the opposition of Brentwood homeowners afraid of having more vets as neighbors.
So far, help throughout the city is provided by non-profits that know how to corral funding for housing. Ground was broken for a project that will house 46 homeless and mentally ill people in the Sunland-Tujunga area of the Valley. Speaking at the event, the Daily News reported, was Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose 35-year-old schizophrenic son lives on Valley streets. “He is lost in mental illness,and we don’t know if he is taking his meds,” he said at the event.
There are many families like his, a number growing with the return of veterans suffering from brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. Certainly, the problem is too big and complex for the next mayor to cure. The city-county Los Angeles Homeless Authority reported there were more than 23,000 homeless in the city and more than 51,000 outside city limits in the county—an estimate considered far too low by other homeless experts. But that’s a huge problem worthy of a big place high on the next mayor’s agenda.