As always, the discussion of homelessness left me frustrated.
City Atty. Mike Feuer was his usual knowledgeable self as he explained what he'd been doing to combat Los Angeles' seemingly incurable affliction. And it made sense. He has sent out teams to interact with homeless on the street. He has tried to help them navigate the maze of laws that are designed to protect them and the residents who scorn and fear them. He has convened meetings of law enforcement and other justice system officials.
But as I heard Feuer speak to the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum on Tuesday, his positive words had a too-familiar sound. Like other reporters writing about homelessness, I had heard them before from the women and men who lead the vast number of government and non-profit agencies given the job of getting people off the streets.
I've never been able to get my arms around the myriad agencies involved in the effort. They are generally run by well intentioned and hopefully smart people, extending from Mayor Eric Garcetti's administration to little-known organizations. But there are so many of them, and they express themselves in such a complex way, that it's hard to sort out what they do.
For example, the master agency, supposedly in charge of it all, the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) hands out more than $300 million a year in federal, state, county and city funds for shelter and services to the homeless, among other funds. It was created years ago to organize the county and city bureaucracies into one massive fight on homelessness.
Rather than leading us with a Roosevelt-like battle cry, LAHSA explains its work in high bureaucratese. From its web site: "Through LAHSA, funding, program design, outcomes assessment and technical assistance are provided to more than 100 nonprofit partner agencies" that assist the homeless. All the voters know is that they approved a huge bond issue and a tax increase to provide housing and services for the homeless and have seen no results.
I asked Feuer about the multiplicity of agencies, including his own, putting out plans while the number of homeless increase. Why doesn't someone "knock heads" and come up with a cure-all plan?
"There is more than the knocking of heads" needed in the process, he said.
As an example, he cited the increasingly intense controversy over where to build temporary and permanent housing for the homeless. He said there was a "need to streamline the process" through which sites are selected. But Feuer also talked about a dispute in Venice where efforts to "streamline" has stirred huge neighborhood opposition. He praised Garcetti and Councilman Mike Bonin for their efforts to build housing on city owned land. The project, however, has been a target for local NIMBYs, who also berate Garcetti and Bonin for the large number of homeless living on Venice streets.
You'd think Feuer would want a vacation from such heat when his two terms end in 2021. But, no. He obviously believes he can succeed whether so many others have failed. Asked by a member of the Current Affairs Forum audience about running for mayor, he said it is "something I am looking at very seriously."
The next mayor, he said, must have the "ability to lead and inspire," and be willing to take risks. All this is true. But such words are also a truism, defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as "a statement that is so obviously true that it is almost not worth saying."