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Los Angeles in state of emergency takes new steps to help homeless

Beneath the parking lot of a reputable Studio City gym, which costs more than $250 a month, there are signs of a camp used by homeless people, something increasingly common in Los Angeles.

The situation is repeated in several places in the area, known for the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, and mirrors a pattern that goes from North Hollywood to Venice: walks with tents, furniture, clothes and various objects in improvised camps.

What was previously associated with Skid Row, a neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles (LA) with a permanent population of between 8,000 and 10,000 homeless people, spilled over to other neighborhoods across the Californian city, where the average studio rent is 2,237 dollars (about 2,103 euros) a month and a three-room apartment costs 3,874 dollars (about 3,643 euros) a month.

Despite measures taken in recent years, including moratoriums on rent increases and eviction actions, the number of people living on the street has increased. The problem reached such proportions that the new mayor (mayor) of Los Angeles, Democrat Karen Bass, declared a state of emergency as soon as she took office in mid-December.

“My mandate is to move Los Angeles in a new direction with an urgent and strategic approach to solving our city’s toughest challenges and creating a better future for all Angelenos,” said the ‘mayor’, in written statements sent to the Lusa agency.

The official promised a drastic change in the way the city, home to around 3.8 million people, addresses the homelessness crisis.

On December 21, the ‘mayor’ launched the “Inside Safe” initiative to end street encampments and transfer homeless people to hotels and motels, a program that will cost 100 million dollars (about 94 million euros) and will be reassessed in March.

The causes of the crisis range from a shortage of affordable housing to mental health issues, domestic violence and drug addiction, and have become more visible with the disruption of the covid-19 pandemic.

According to the most recent report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), there are 41,980 homeless people in the City of Los Angeles and 69,144 in LA County.

These numbers mean an increase of 1.7% and 4.1% (respectively) since the previous count in 2020, but reflect a much more expressive growth when compared to 2016: in that year, there were 28 thousand homeless people in the city.

It was a 50% increase in six years, despite all the measures taken by the previous mayor, Eric Garcetti, to help the displaced.

In 2016, voters voted in favor of the bill known as HHH, which raised property taxes to raise $1.2 billion (about €1.13 billion) and aimed to build 10,000 apartments for accommodate homeless people.

However, the combination of regulations, bureaucracy and other obstacles prevented expressive results from the strategy. The LAHD (Los Angeles Housing Department) indicates that only 3,861 units were completed and an audit by the city’s treasurer (LA Controller) determined that the average cost was 580 thousand dollars (about 545 thousand euros) per apartment, an amount well above than could be considered affordable.

Many of the hurdles are the tight regulations that limit where and how new construction can be done in Los Angeles. The approval process is lengthy, can trigger legal proceedings because neighborhood associations don’t want affordable housing near them, and construction has to comply with complex environmental regulations.

That’s what ‘mayor’ Karen Bass says she wants to unlock with the declaration of a state of emergency. The order gives her power “to lift rules and regulations that delay or block the construction of temporary or permanent housing for displaced people”, her office told Lusa.

It will also allow you to speed up the signing of contracts and give the city the possibility of acquiring rooms, properties and land to house citizens who are on the street.

The crisis has become very visible in the last two years and has spread to neighborhoods that previously did not have to deal with this problem.

Campsites can appear in places as diverse as sidewalks near stores, under bridges and parking lots or in areas off highways. This is what happens, for example, at the exit of 101 to Sunset Boulevard, from where it is possible to see one of the Netflix buildings.

There are several organizations working to help people living on the street, such as the LA Mission, which provides meals, clothing and support programs, Shower of Hope, which brings mobile shower units to those in need, or Ktown for All, that helps people live on the streets of Koreatown.

Under pressure to get results after defeating millionaire Rick Caruso – who received the support of celebrities like Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian precisely for his promise to “clean up” the streets – Karen Bass promised several executive directives that will be parallel to measures at the level state.

In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom enacted two new laws (SB 2011 and SB 6) to accelerate construction of affordable housing in the state, which is the richest in the United States.

Despite economic prosperity – California is the richest state in the United States and if it were a country it would have the fifth largest economy in the world – inequality is rising.

In Los Angeles, where street camps overlook the Hollywood sign and Hollywood Hills mansions, the poverty rate is 16.6% of the population, according to the Census Bureau.

The average annual salary is $69,778 (about €65,624), which is just under $6,000 (about €5,000) a month before taxes in a city with few vacancies and where a two-bedroom apartment costs nearly four thousand.

*With Lusa

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