LA County homeless count to begin with huge expectations, political tailwinds

The 2023 count in Los Angeles County runs from Tuesday, Jan. 24 through Thursday, Jan. 26

On the surface, the 2023 homeless count rolling out across Los Angeles County Tuesday through Thursday is an attempt to quantify the number of unhoused people and learn their locations, needs and status so that services — including temporary and permanent housing — can be provided.

But like rising tension in a Hollywood movie, this year’s count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority comes with tense foreshadowing. Factors include the governor’s move to connect the homeless with mental health services in “CARE Courts”; two emergency declarations made for the first time, one by the city of Los Angeles, and the other by L.A. County; and a Los Angeles mayor who is not waiting for a honeymoon period to tackle the problem on streets in the City of Angels.

Some say that, since the first count in 2005 which found 88,345 homeless people countywide including Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena, this year’s homeless count carries more weight. It comes after large disease spikes from COVID-19 have passed, though some cautions are still in place.

This time the count, again conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), unfolds amidst fevered anticipation from folks demanding action — in essence, wanting to know how this movie ends.

With more eyes watching, it packs a bigger political punch than any previous homeless count.

“Oh yeah,” said Jack Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. “They are raising the prominence of this issue and the political stakes will probably increase,” he said on Jan. 17.

Politics: Who will pay the price?

During the Los Angeles mayoral campaign, unsuccessful candidate Rick Caruso ran TV ads showing rows of homeless encampments, and he promised to add 30,000 interim housing units in the first 300 days if elected. Mayor Karen Bass, who edged out Caruso for the job, has launched her “Inside Safe” initiative that aims to clear encampments by moving the homeless safely indoors at motels and hotels.

She agrees with President Joe Biden’s goal of reducing homelessness in the U.S. by 25% in two years. She has begun moving homeless people off the streets, starting with Venice and Hollywood.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency on homelessness and vowed to work hand-in-hand with the city of L.A. All of these efforts, from the White House to Sacramento to L.A. County and L.A. city underscore the importance of this year’s count like never before, Pitney says.

If Bass fails, she could face a Democrat in a mayoral primary in 2026, he said. This holds true for the county supervisors and any other politician who may not move the needle on homelessness after making promises. “When they seek reelection their opponents will use their current statements as a baseline and say: ‘This officeholder talked about fighting homelessness in 2023,’” Pitney said. “It has the potential to raise a political problem.”

The Count: Pressure to improve

Volunteers will begin counting on Tuesday, Jan. 24 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, while east and west Los Angeles will be counted on Wednesday, Jan. 25, followed by South L.A., central L.A. and the Antelope Valley which will be counted on Thursday, Jan. 26.

The count is run by LAHSA and is done at night. The timing and the dates are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Emily Vaughn Henry, deputy chief information officer for LAHSA.

HUD stipulates the count should be conducted in the last days of January each year. And HUD says counting at night is best because that’s when more homeless are on the streets looking for shelter. “That’s when you will likely find more people unhoused,” said Henry on Wednesday, Jan. 18

The purpose of a count is to get federal, state and local dollars to build shelters and housing, and to provide substance abuse prevention and mental health services to more of the unhoused population. It also helps government adjust resources to address the needs.

“It helps substantiate the number of people who are in need of substance abuse treatment and mental health services and interim, as well as permanent, housing,” said County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose First District includes Skid Row, the site of the region’s highest concentration of homeless adults.

Last year’s count also helps the county identify demographics. For example, the number of homeless who are Latino has been increasing, Solis said.

Yet things did not always go as planned and statistics lag. The 2021 count was canceled due to rising COVID-19 cases. And last year’s count was postponed until February. Results were released late — in September, which found that 69,144 people were homeless in L.A. County, a 4.1% rise from 2020, and 41,980 people were homeless in the city of L.A., up 1.7% from 2020.

Some interpreted the latest numbers as a flattening of the curve due to LAHSA and its partners who placed  84,000 people into permanent housing between 2017 and 2022. But others said the restrictions on volunteers who could not approach the unhoused during the count, coupled with problems from an app used to record data, caused an undercount.

This year, LAHSA is using a new app, and will provide pen-and-paper backup in case there are snafus, and is working with new demographers to improve results.

“Last year, a lot of people had questions if the numbers were reliable,” said recently elected Third District L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath on Wednesday. “This year, LAHSA has taken that to heart. Everyone involved will see an improved system to make sure our count has a regional aspect.”

However, the lack of volunteers is a looming problem. LAHSA in late fall last year set a goal of using 8,000 volunteers to perform the count. But one week out from the count, they had signed up just 3,307 volunteers and had lowered their goal to 5,000 volunteers.

“That would be enough, if we get to 5,000 I will be happy. If we get to 6,000 I’ll be happier,” said LAHSA’s Henry.

Undercounting is a concern

Jason, one of four adult men living in an encampment near the 210 Freeway in the San Gabriel Valley, said he’s never been approached by a counting team and doesn’t think he was counted in past years. But he praised LAHSA for helping him find a shelter in Bell last year.

“They helped me out because they got me in a shelter, they gave me food. But I haven’t seen them in a couple months,” said Jason, 41, who declined to give his last name.

Homeless people such as Jason who are contacted during or after a count, and even given a voucher for a hotel or a shelter bed, can end up back on the streets for various reasons.

A study by the RAND Corporation, produced by its team from the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles, found that 41% of the homeless contacted in its study had been previously contacted by LAHSA — but were not recontacted to complete the intake process to get permanent housing.

“There’s a lot of engagement but not a lot of followup,” said Jason Ward, associate director of the RAND Center on Wednesday. “A high proportion said they were never contacted to move into permanent housing. Either people never came back, or people did and couldn’t find the individual.”

Solis characterized LAHSA as “bogged down with a lot of red tape.” She’s heard complaints from housing providers and those who provide other services that they face delayed compensation from LAHSA, which can turn away private businesses that want to help.

“We have to follow up,” she said, pointing the finger at LAHSA. “It is not just a one-off. There’s got to be more monitoring and tracking.”

The fast-approaching LAHSA point-in-time count is flawed in many ways, said Ward at RAND. First, it is only conducted one day each year, compared to RAND’s Los Angeles Longitudinal Enumeration and Demographic Survey (LA LEADS) project, which for a year sent highly trained professionals into Skid Row every two weeks, and into Hollywood and Venice every month.

Such intense and repetitive counting discovered 20% more homeless in those three areas — Skid Row, Hollywood and Venice — than the 2022 LAHSA count showed, Ward said. The RAND project took place from late fall 2021 through late fall 2022.

Weather, law enforcement sweeps and time of year affected the counts, he said. He said counting in January, when it is colder, may reduce the recorded number of unsheltered individuals because more stay in shelters than on the street.

While Ward said “both approaches have value,” his team will be releasing its updated count for those three areas within a week or two. “We see evidence of rapid changes, namely overwhelming growth (of homelessness),” he said.

Andy Bales, president and CEO of Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row, says he never calls it a count. “This is only an estimate. A one-time, best estimate, not a thorough count,” he said on Tuesday. “If everybody understands that going in, there will be much less disappointment.”

Solis said colder weather and recent rains may have pushed the homeless indoors, moving them toward couch-surfing, into shelters or tiny homes, or sleeping in cars or RVs — which makes them harder to count. She said the Board of Supervisors welcomes all data sources, not just the LAHSA count.

“We do have to consolidate and put data and coordination at the center of our efforts,” Solis said.

Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

Ex-LA councilmember Jose Huizar will take plea bargain in corruption case

Central figure in alleged system of dirty deals at City Hall will admit to racketeering, conspiracy, tax evasion

In a stunning turn in the high-profile corruption saga that has gripped the City of Angels for many months, former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar has agreed to plead guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion, according to court documents filed Thursday, Jan. 19.

Update: Jose Huizar pleads guilty to racketeering and tax evasion, faces nine years

Huizar’s plea agreement — which maps out his links to a bribery and money-laundering scheme in which he was accused of taking more than $1.5 million in cash, gambling trips and escorts in exchange for supporting a planned downtown hotel project — was signed Wednesday and filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday afternoon.

The document states that Huizar faces a sentence of up to 26 years behind bars once he pleads guilty, but he has agreed to a prison sentence of no less than nine years. A motions hearing in the case is on calendar for Friday morning, but that could be updated to allow for Huizar to enter his plea.

At his sentencing, Huizar will be ordered to pay restitution of about $1.85 million, the documents state.

Huizar early this month lost his bid for a severance from his co-defendant in their forthcoming trial on federal public corruption charges.

In that ruling, U.S. District Judge John Walter denied the motion for Huizar to be tried separately from former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan.

There was no word Thursday on whether Chan would also plead guilty.

Huizar faced a courtroom drama on Feb. 21, facing trial for federal bribery and fraud charges. His actions were allegedly intertwined with those of City Hall insider Chan, whose high-profile attorney Harland Braun announced that he would tell the jury Huizar was guilty and Chan was not guilty “by comparing and contrasting their conduct as criminal and noncriminal, respectively.”

Prosecutors said billionaire developer Wei Huang, who fled to China, was accused of giving Huizar $1.5 million, including $250,000 in casino chips and a loan Huizar never paid back.

Huizar was heading for a difficult day in court after Huang’s Chinese real estate company was convicted on Thursday, Nov. 10, of federal charges for bribing Huizar with vast amounts of cash and numerous gambling trips in exchange for his support to get approval for a towering downtown L.A. skyscraper that was never built.

Shen Zhen New World I, the company owned by fugitive developer Huang, faces millions of dollars in fines in its sentencing, which is expected in a Los Angeles federal court on Jan. 23.

A Los Angeles federal jury found Shen Zhen New World I guilty of eight counts including honest services wire fraud, interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Federal prosecutors have convicted nine defendants as a result of “Operation Casino Loyale,” a broad corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A thick trial memo written by federal prosecutors recently unveiled dramatic new fireworks, alleging that Huizar was so entangled with Huang that he traveled with the billionaire Huang to Las Vegas 19 times.

Billionaire Huang planned to build a 77-story tower, the tallest building on the West Coast, on the site of the L.A. Grand Hotel downtown. Federal prosecutors said the company bribed Huizar to smooth the way.

Devastating testimony last fall by Huizar’s estranged wife, Richelle Rios, detailed her suspicion that her husband was involved in an extra-marital affair, and in August 2013 she had learned that Huizar was being sued by a former aide alleging sexual harassment. The woman sought between $600,000 and $1 million to settle with her ex-boss, Rios said.

Richelle Rios testified that because Huizar was about to run for his third and final four-year term on the Los Angeles City Council — and news of the harassment lawsuit could potentially torpedo his campaign — Huizar and his associates were worried.

Rios, who did not face charges, said she was called to a meeting with her husband, and then-Deputy Mayor Chan and billionaire Huang — known in Huizar’s circle as “Chairman Huang.”

The topic of the meeting: How Huang could “help in resolving the lawsuit,” Rios testified.

“They wanted to know if I was going to stay in the marriage and would I stand with (Huizar),” Rios, 53, told the jury.

Click here to read the full article in LA Daily News

LA city council approves $50M emergency fund for Bass to use at her discretion

Show of support for Mayor Karen Bass goes to her visible push to get encampments off streets

In a show of support for Mayor Karen Bass’ efforts to address Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, the City Council voted on Wednesday, Jan. 18 to create and transfer $50 million into an emergency fund for the mayor to use at her discretion.

The funding, which passed by a 13-0 vote, would go toward Bass’ Inside Safe Initiative, which aims to bring residents of encampments indoors.

“We are in this crisis right now and we want the mayor to succeed,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said. “We want to do everything we can. Even though it’s a lot of money, it’s actually a drop in the bucket of what is needed and what will be needed for the emergency efforts.”

The money will help immediately pay for hotels, increase in staffing and providers who are conducting outreach, according to Matt Szabo, the city administrative officer. Szabo said that without access to the immediate funding, the city lacks the capacity to pay providers in a timely manner.

“The program has brought to our attention the need to have an account of flexible dollars that can be spent quickly without going through the standard process of appropriation from this body,” Szabo said.

The council last month approved Bass’ emergency declaration over homelessness, which will be evaluated monthly by several indicators of progress, including the number of encampments and housing placements, and how much more flexibility city departments are allowed through the declaration.

The declaration is scheduled to last six months.

Of the $50 million, $26.5 million would come from a general fund account for homelessness services and the remaining $23.5 million from funding previously set aside for COVID-19 response.

The council voted last month to end the city’s state of local emergency due to COVID-19 at the end of the month, with a motion by Council President Paul Krekorian noting that it “is appropriate to close this account and appropriate the funds for other emergency purposes.”

Mercedes Marquez, the mayor’s chief of housing and homelessness solutions, said the dedicated funding will help the city bring in more service providers and ramp up its outreach to residents of encampments. The goal of issuing the emergency declaration is to take steps toward institutionalizing a solution rather than launching pilot programs.

“We’re not going to get to something that has more permanent value and outcomes if we continue to do pilots,” Marquez said.

The city officials said the funding will also help Los Angeles fulfill its requirements under an expected settlement with the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, which sued the city and county in 2020, accusing them of failing to do enough to address the homelessness crisis.

The council on Wednesday also called for weekly updates from various city departments on outreach and other metrics related to homelessness. The council will also receive reports every two weeks on transactions and outcomes of the funding provided by the emergency account, and it will be briefed every 45 days on the progress of the Inside Safe Initiative.

“The state of emergency is not going to be a permanent state of emergency,” Krekorian said. “We’re going to use this emergency period in order to create solutions that will become permanent solutions.”

Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who chairs the council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee, said that any programs developed during the state of emergency must be “enshrined in city policy going forward.” She hoped for solutions that enable city departments to address homelessness under non-emergency circumstances, without the “subversion of traditional oversight.”

The last time a mayor declared a local emergency related to homelessness was in 1987, when Mayor Tom Bradley cited the effect of winter weather on people experiencing homelessness, according to the declaration. The conditions now, the declaration claimed, are “even more dire.”

There are an estimated 41,980 unhoused people in the city of Los Angeles, up 1.7% from 2020, according to the latest point-in-time count.

According to Bass’ office, the Inside Safe Initiative will work to identify the “highest need encampments” that have a chronic and high demand for services, according to the directive. Using citywide coordination between various departments and agencies, the action plan calls for identifying interim housing and eventually permanent housing resources for each person living in the encampments.

Under Bass’ first directive on streamlining project approval, city departments must conduct all reviews and issue approvals for 100% affordable housing projects within 60 days. Once construction starts, the utility permitting and certificate of occupancy process must be completed within five days for affordable housing units and two days for temporary housing.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia supported the council’s decision and plans to build a dashboard to track the progress of the Inside Safe Initiative. Mejia told the council that it would highlight available resources and include “monitoring the trajectory of unhoused community members from interim to permanent housing.”

Click here to read the full article at the Los Angeles Daily News

Beaches battered by storms and surge, but spared major damage

With a break in the storms, crews are cleaning up the mess left behind following the recent big surf and heavy rains that battered the region in the past week.

The north end of Bolsa Chica State Beach’s parking lots, closed for nearly a week following a flooding of seawater that stretched across the sand and into Pacific Coast Highway, will reopen by Thursday, Jan. 11, following extensive clean-up efforts, said State Parks Superintendent Kevin Pearsall.

Crews worked 17-hour shifts in recent days to remove debris and sand, he said, from the lots and the multi-use trail after the rain storm that hit last Thursday mixed with extreme high tides and a hefty swell to overwhelm the shore.

“It’s insane the amount of trash and debris and driftwood,” Pearsall said. “We’re asking people to be cautious and courteous of the cleanup process and so far everyone has complied.”

Pono Barnes, spokesman for Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguards, said no major damage was reported at South Bay beaches, though there was some sand erosion due to the high surf.

Workers will continue building up berms at vulnerable stretches of coast ahead of the next big swell heading to the area Friday and into the weekend, he said.

Carol Baker, spokesperson for Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors Department, said workers are continuing to move in sand and, where appropriate, add rocks to shore up the trouble areas, specifically at Point Dume and Dockweiler beaches.

The pier in Seal Beach will remain closed at least until next week, said Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey. Crews will be surveying the pier in coming days to determine the extent of the damage incurred during last week’s big swell that slammed the coast.

Several large wooden pilings and the boat ramp were ripped off of the pier, which remains closed until inspectors can determine if it is sound enough to reopen, he said. “We’re hoping it’s not a huge structural damage.”

The lingering high surf has kept divers from being able to safely get in the water and check under the pier, Seal Beach Police Capt. Nick Nicholas said Wednesday, Jan. 11. “However, it looks like tomorrow the conditions will be better, and we should have more information next week.”

Flooding from the latest storm was contained to the parking lots and on the beach in town, Bailey said. “We were able to keep it off the boardwalk.”

The Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT,  was out filling sandbags in the parking lot for residents to protect property earlier this week.

The sand berm built in front of beachfront homes held up, but with a new big swell on the horizon for Friday that could bring 5- to 8-foot waves, Seal Beach workers will keep an eye on the sand wall to see if it needs to be rebuilt, officials said.

“We’re paying close attention,” Bailey said. “The forecast isn’t as big, but it’s still awfully big.”

A big swell hit the region Wednesday, with waves in the 6- to 8-foot range and even larger in some coastal areas. Pearsall said sets of 14 feet were slamming Bolsa Chica, but no flooding occurred because the accompanying tides were lower than last week.

The surf is expected to drop slightly Thursday, with a new northwest swell and waves in the 5- to 8-foot range expected Friday and Saturday, before dropping slightly Sunday in Orange County, according to Surfline.com. The waves are expected to be larger, in the 8- to 12-feet range, on Friday in the Los Angeles area.

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach is reporting a roof leak that is causing damage to the ceiling tiles. The center had to shut down its treatment and nursery area until repairs are done.

“Wounded wildlife needs our center to be fully operational,” Executive Director  Debbie McGuire said.

The center had to bring all the birds inside and built indoor pools until damaged electrical systems can be fixed, she said.

Crystal Cove State Beach, where historic cottages sit on the sand, has also suffered in recent weeks, with a lot of sand loss and erosion during the storms, Pearsall said. “Right now, there’s very limited beach availability.”

Also, an access road leading to a lifeguard tower at El Moro was washed away by the storms, Pearsall said. And, further south, the dirt parking lot at San Onofre’s Surf Beach remains closed due to mud.

The south end of the parking lot at Capistrano Beach, which was already closed to the public, experienced some minor erosion from the most recent storm, said Danielle Kennedy, OC Parks interim public information officer.

A small portion of the sidewalk was also closed following the storm. At Aliso Beach, the front half of the west parking lot remains closed as crews continue to clear sand from that area, she said.

Newport Beach spokesman John Pope reported some pools of water around Balboa Island and the peninsula following the storm, as well as a large amount of trash that flowed down the Santa Ana River to the shore.

Pope said crews expect trash to wash down the Santa Ana River within the next 24 to 48 hours as water recedes from inland down to the ocean.

“There’s not that much right now, we’re expecting it in the next day or two as the river flows,” he said.

Heavy machinery will be helping as early as 7 a.m. Thursday to scoop the trash off the beach, as well as crews cleaning by hand through the day.

“We want to get to as much of that as we can before the tide picks up,” he said.

Considering the damage across other State Parks properties, especially in Northern California where beaches, campgrounds and structures were destroyed, Orange County has been lucky, Pearsall said.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Daily News

Ground Stop on US flights Lifted After System Failure Prompts FAA to Order Pause on Departures

The affected system sends flight hazards and real time restrictions to pilots.

The ground stop and Federal Aviation Administration systems failures Wednesday morning that impacted thousands of flights across the U.S. appear to have been the result of a mistake that occurred during routine scheduled systems maintenance, according to a senior official briefed on the internal review.

An engineer “replaced one file with another,” the official said, not realizing the mistake was being made. As the systems began showing problems and ultimately failed, FAA staff feverishly tried to figure out what had gone wrong. The engineer who made the error did not realize what had happened.

“It was an honest mistake that cost the country millions,” the official said.

Earlier Wednesday, the FAA said normal operations were “resuming gradually” after ordering a nationwide pause on all domestic departures until 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning following a computer failure that has delayed and canceled flights around the country.

“The ground stop has been lifted,” officials said at about 8:50 a.m. ET. “We continue to look into the cause of the initial problem[.]”

Departures were resuming at about 8:15 a.m. ET at two of the nation’s busiest hubs — Newark, New Jersey, and Atlanta — FAA officials said on Twitter, adding, “We expect departures to resume at other airports at 9 a.m. ET.”

The affected Notice To all Air Missions, or NOTAM, system is responsible for sending out flight hazards and real time restrictions to pilots, administration officials said earlier.

“The FAA is still working to fully restore the Notice to Air Missions system following an outage,” said the FAA announcing the temporary grounding of all planes nationwide. “The FAA has ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. Eastern Time to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.”

Had the FAA’s new NOTAM system been in place, redundancies would likely have stopped the cascading failures. With the antiquated system in place, there was nothing to stop the outages, the official told ABC News.

“At this time, there is no evidence of a cyberattack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again,” the FAA said in a statement Wednesday night.

There were still more than 7,300 delays and 1,100 cancellations midday, according to tracking website Flight Aware.

Failures likely due to ‘glitch’

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a full investigation is necessary to prevent any future mishaps.

“When there’s an issue in the FAA that needs to be looked at, we’re gonna own it, same way we asked the airlines to own their companies and operations,” Buttigieg said during an appearance on CNN Wednesday.

Congressional hearings are expected as is a possible speed-up of system replacement.

On what caused the system meltdown, Buttigieg said that overnight there “was an issue with irregularities in the messages that were going out” — though more needs to be learned on what led to the widespread failure.

MORE: What is NOTAM, the FAA computer system that halted all US flights?

Now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual redundancies that would stop it from being that disrupted, did not stop it from being disrupted this time, and what the original source of the errors or the corrupted files would have been,” he said.

A senior official briefed on the FAA computer problems told ABC News the software issue developed late last night and led to a “cascading” series of IT failures culminating in this morning’s disruption. As has been reported, the disruption is confined to the commercial side of aviation.

As of now, the assessment is the failures are the result of a “glitch” and not something intentional. All possibilities are being looked at to ensure that the FAA systems were not breached.

The FAA first reported the system failure on Tuesday, according to an internal memo from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency obtained by ABC News.

Notably, the FAA system that failed is overdue for replacement.

The official compared the current outage to the crisis that crippled Southwest Airlines during the holidays: antiquated software overdue for replacement inside a critical IT network. If one thing goes down, the system can become paralyzed.

Click here to read the full article at ABC 7

1 Arrested in Killing Near USC

A 31-year-old man was arrested in the shooting death of a security guard early Wednesday outside a student apartment building about half a mile from USC, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The shooting was reported around 12:30 a.m. outside the Lorenzo complex in the 300 block of West Adams Boulevard, just south of 23rd Street and east of Flower Street. The victim, a guard at the complex, was shot while trying to escort a trespasser off the property, the LAPD said in a news release.

He died at the scene, officials said. His identity has not been released.

During the investigation, police found a possible suspect sleeping in a parking area near the lobby of the apartment complex, according to the LAPD. The man, later identified as Alexander Crawford, 31, was detained without incident and found to have a handgun in his possession, police said.

Video reviewed by investigators connected the man to the shooting, according to the LAPD, and the gun found in his possession matched the caliber used in the guard’s killing.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Bass Wants to Bring Homeless People Indoors. Can She Secure Enough Beds?

Seated on the hard sidewalk along Cahuenga Boulevard, Rue Ryan arranged a batch of red roses she had plucked from the trash into a memorial for her “street mom,” Hyper, who died two years ago.

The work was an escape from the activity around her, as friends and fellow encampment residents hurriedly prepared to move into nearby hotel rooms, choosing what to keep or toss.

Outreach workers had counted about 25 people living under a 101 Freeway overpass in Hollywood, and on Tuesday, 11 of them went to one of three nearby hotels. A hot shower, a good night’s rest — these are luxuries housed people take for granted, Ryan said, and would help her find a job, some security and a permanent place to live.

“It’s dangerous out here. People are getting trafficked. People are getting killed,” said Ryan, a 32-year-old Alabama native. “You can’t sleep if you’re staying on the streets. So you’re exhausted. You’re not going to work. You look filthy and smell. Nobody wants to deal with you. How can you move forward in life? That’s why people get stuck out here so long.”

Ryan hoped to get a hotel room of her own as part of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ “Inside Safe” initiative, which Bass unveiled Wednesday, nine days after she declared a citywide state of emergency on homelessness. The declaration she signed Wednesday formally kicks off a determined effort to clear encampments by offering people such as Ryan hotel and motel rooms.

Fellow politicians, nonprofit providers and some activists have applauded the urgency and focus that Bass is bringing to moving people off the street and into temporary housing, from which social workers can help them find permanent housing.

In the first two weeks of her administration, Bass has sought to centralize the work of identifying encampments with the most vulnerable people and which are the biggest sources of frustration for nearby residents. She has also focused on identifying the steps in the process that delay people going indoors, or housing from being built.

What occurred at the encampment on Cahuenga was effective, providers say, because they had hotel rooms rented and ready for people to occupy.

“The pace at which Inside Safe can bring people indoors from encampments across the city will largely depend on the availability of beds,” said Cheri Todoroff, executive director of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Initiative. “What the city is doing that will likely be a game changer is accelerating housing placements, both in interim and permanent housing.”

More buildings master-leased — a process in which the city would take control of entire hotels or motels — means more people off the streets. But it remains to be seen whether the city can lease enough beds to meaningfully reduce or eliminate large encampments across Los Angeles.

Bass has made clear she wants to work closely with Todoroff’s bosses — the five Los Angeles County supervisors — appearing before them Tuesday to talk about the need for better partnership between the bureaucracies. The county does much of the funding and contracting of the outreach work taking place on city streets.

The county will be expanding some of these different outreach teams in the coming year, which will bolster the plans that Bass and council offices have to address large encampments across the city.

Still, providers say the work of gaining a homeless person’s trust to persuade them to move off the street is easier when a bed is available along with transportation to it. Case in point: A city Dash bus idled in position Wednesday, poised to ferry people to a motel once they were ready and had packed the two bags they were allowed to bring.

As people moved out of their makeshift structures, sanitation workers quickly moved in to throw away large items and dispose of what was left behind. Homeless people have often complained that this work by the Sanitation Department causes them to lose personal items and important documents.

Bass appeared cognizant of this broader challenge Wednesday as she highlighted how this effort on Cahuenga followed the approach that had been developed at large encampment cleanups across the city in 2021. She made clear that these operations weren’t being led by law enforcement and that she didn’t want to see homeless people ticketed or punished for living on the street.

“We know that there are specific motels where people can go to,” she said of the Hollywood cleanup and effort to move people indoors. “In the best of all worlds, what I would like to see is us to be able to do this citywide. But we’re not at that capacity just now. It’s going to take us a minute to ramp up. I think this is day nine or day 10 of me being mayor.”

Bass was flanked by outreach workers and social services providers at Wednesday’s news conference, where she signed the executive order. Among other things, it directs city officials to compile a report by the end of March that will “create a unit acquisition strategy, including master leasing for both interim and permanent housing options.”

The first goal, she sets out in the document, is to “decrease the number and size of encampments across the city.”

Bass’ emergency declaration, which the City Council authorized, gives her a lot more flexibility to quickly commit city funds toward leasing motel and hotel rooms. City officials said Bass currently has about $20 million at her disposal that could be put toward leasing beds quickly.

More funds could be made available to her, but that would require more input from the council.

Bass credited Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of St. Joseph Center in Venice, with helping spearhead some of this work.

Last year, Adams Kellum’s organization coordinated the outreach and renting of hotel rooms along Ocean Front Walk in Venice, where a massive encampment had sprung up, frustrating local residents and business owners.

The city gave her organization about $5 million to do that work, and more than half of the funds went to renting motels for more than 200 people. Much of the rest went toward staff to supervise the outreach and operations of the hotels.

That operation was delayed in part because Adams Kellum’s team had to wait for the City Council to sign off on the money being spent, recalled former Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represented the area and helped organize this work.

“There was a really drawn-out process then,” Bonin said. “Karen has the opportunity to say ‘let’s get moving’ and people will move. It’s a big difference from the usual legislative process.”

Both Bonin and Adams Kellum said the success of that work in Venice hinged on having beds available for people to quickly move into.

In an interview, Adams Kellum, who is on Bass’ transition advisory team, said that of the 213 people moved off Ocean Front Walk, 109 have found permanent housing. She added that it’s much easier to get people paired with a housing subsidy and into permanent housing if they’re indoors already.

“She knows housing has to be a part of it,” Adams Kellum said of Bass and her team’s work. “I know she’s lining that up because she knows you can’t go into an encampment sincerely without [the motel bed] in hand.”

Back on Cahuenga, Ryan waited for her case manager to arrive with her driver’s license — a delivery that continued to be delayed. Some of Ryan’s friends planned to stay on the street — uninterested in the offers of a hotel room. She had also seen some people lose items they cared about during the cleanup Tuesday.

Click here to read the full story in the LA Times

Mark Ridley-Thomas lawyers confirm deal with city to reimburse him $364,573

LA City Council had agreed to reinstate his salary while Ridley-Thomas awaits 2023 corruption trial

Attorneys for suspended Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas — who faces federal corruption charges over his actions while serving on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors — have filed court papers confirming a resolution of his lawsuit against the city and City Controller Ron Galperin for suspending his pay and benefits.

The accord comes after the City Council on Dec. 7 voted to reinstate both his salary and benefits and pay Ridley-Thomas a total of $364,573.

“Plaintiff will dismiss his claims after receipt of the settlement payment,” Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers stated in their court papers filed Monday, Dec. 19, with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra.

A hearing is scheduled Jan. 31 to address why the case should not be dismissed, but that hearing will be canceled if the case is dropped before then.

Galperin suspended Ridley-Thomas’ pay and benefits after the council member was indicted. Ridley-Thomas and former dean of the USC School of Social Work, Marilyn Flynn, are charged in a 20-count indictment that alleges that in a secret deal then-county supervisor Ridley-Thomas agreed to steer county money to USC if the university admitted his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas to graduate school — with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Flynn pleaded guilty in the corruption case in September.

Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the council in October 2021 after his indictment. His lawsuit filed on July 28 alleged that city controller Galperin acted unilaterally to cut Ridley-Thomas’ pay and did so to help his campaign for state controller. Galperin finished fifth in the field of six.

The council voted 10-1 to approve the settlement with Ridley-Thomas. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell cast the lone vote in dissent.

In a statement, Galperin said his earlier decision was “in accordance with city law.”

“I acted because my job as controller and the taxpayers’ watchdog required it,” Galperin said.

The settlement includes $254,000 in back pay and $99,500 in attorneys’ fees.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Daily News

Giving homeless $500 and shelter has cut RV camps in Valley, may go citywide

City Council signals interest after Councilmember Monica Rodriguez says pilot program is succeeding in District 7

The Los Angeles City Council this week signaled its interest in potentially expanding an unusual pilot program underway in the San Fernando Valley aimed at reducing the number of homeless people living in recreational vehicles that have popped up along city streets.

The council voted 13-0 on Tuesday, Dec. 13, to request information from agencies involved in the pilot program, including an overview and associated costs, and to request from city staff a report on how the encampment reduction program might be funded citywide.

Piloted in Council District 7, the program was successful in removing 20 RVs off city streets and housing 25 homeless individuals, with another 12 enrolled and waiting for housing placement, between Feb. 1 and Sept. 15, according to Councilmember Monica Rodriguez. She represents Northeast San Fernando Valley communities including Sylmar, Pacoima, Sunland-Tujunga, North Hills and La Tuna Canyon.

Following the Tuesday vote, Rodriguez said she’s confident the approach will have positive results in other council districts.

“Angelenos have been rightfully concerned about RV encampments for years,” Rodriguez said. “This model (incentivizes) housing placement and permanently removes, not relocates, the issues to other communities.”

The goal is to give those living in RVs an incentive to voluntarily trade in their vehicles in exchange for temporary or permanent housing, by offering them $500 Visa gift cards. The result, supporters say, is that it not only provides individuals an opportunity to transition to housing, but it removes from the streets RVs that pose a risk to public safety.

Often, the RVs block visibility for drivers on the road and leak sewage onto the streets. Additionally, there have been incidents in which heaters or propane inside the RVs caught fire.

“It’s taking this systematic approach, which I believe has been incredibly beneficial to not only eradicating the RVs in the neighborhoods, but more importantly, getting these individuals to agree to leaving these facilities and accepting housing opportunities that are suitable to their needs,” Rodriguez said during a news conference last month.

The program in District 7 is the result of a partnership between West Valley Homes YES, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and LA Family Housing.

This week’s L.A. City Council vote directs service providers and city departments to write up a report outlining each agency’s role in facilitating the housing placement and the disposing of the RVs, as well as strategies for scaling up the program.

L.A. saw a dramatic 41% increase in the number of RVs on city streets between 2019 and 2022, according to Rodriguez’s office.

Kim Olsen, executive director of West Valley Homes YES, in a statement last month, spoke of the importance of a program that uses incentives to encourage people to voluntarily transition from living on the streets, instead of through force.

“Prioritizing agency and dignity rather than coercion is comprehensively effective,” she said, “and long-term success will come only with the provision of housing that meets those same standards.”

Click here to read the full article at LA Daily News

New LA Mayor Bass Declares Homeless Emergency as Term Begins

 Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass began her first day in office Monday by declaring a state of emergency to grapple with the city’s out-of-control homeless crisis, bidding to move swiftly to get thousands of unhoused people off her city’s streets.

Bass called the declaration “a sea change in how the city tackles homelessness,” making good on a campaign pledge to call the emergency the day she took power. The issue dominated her mayoral race against billionaire developer Rick Caruso and the crisis has continued to worsen despite vast public spending increases.

She said Sunday that the many, disparate arms of government must unite to confront homelessness in the nation’s second-largest city. To move in a new direction “we must have a single strategy” bringing together government, the private sector and other stakeholders, she said at the ceremony.

Trash-strewn encampments and rusting RVs have spread to virtually every neighborhood of Los Angeles, and her declaration on Monday included a grim statistical rundown of the many problems stemming from the homeless crisis.

Fires caused by homeless people constitute a majority of all blazes handled by the Los Angeles Fire Department, averaging 24 a day, according to 2021 figures. About half the homeless population — totaling over 40,000 citywide — suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, and about a third have serious mental illnesses. And homeless deaths average five a day.

Despite more than $1.2 billion in spending for homeless programs in the current city budget, there is scant evidence of change on the streets, and the declaration said the crisis has grown “beyond the control of the normal services, personnel, equipment, and facilities” in Los Angeles.

Advocates for the unhoused cheered the declaration.

Jennifer Hark Dietz, CEO of the homeless services nonprofit PATH, said the city’s previous “piecemeal” approach to the crisis too often involved law enforcement instead of service providers. She expressed hope that the move would cut down on red tape, bolster outreach and include “tangible housing solutions.”

“From individuals just falling into homelessness, to those living outdoors or in interim housing … we know that the affordable housing they need is just not here,” Dietz said in a statement Monday that backed efforts to speed creation of affordable housing.

Janice Hahn, who heads the county Board of Supervisors, credited Bass with “treating the homelessness crisis with the urgency it demands.”

Bass’ election in November represented a historic marker in the city’s 241-year history. She is the first woman and second Black person to hold the job. The former Democratic congresswoman and legislative leader begins work amid multiple crises. Bass also is tasked with easing rising crime rates and restoring trust in a City Hall shaken by racism and corruption scandals.

Bass — who was on President-elect Joe Biden’s short list for vice president — claimed the post last month after overcoming more than $100 million in spending by rival Caruso, a billionaire and Republican-turned-Democrat who campaigned as a centrist and promised a strong emphasis on public safety.

Caruso would have represented a turn to the political right for the heavily Democratic city. Bass swayed voters by arguing she would be a coalition builder to help heal a troubled city of nearly 4 million.

She took her formal oath privately but was sworn in ceremonially at a downtown theater on Sunday by Vice President Kamala Harris, a longtime friend and former California attorney general.

Bass, 69, ran as the consensus pick of the Democratic establishment and was endorsed by Biden, former President Barack Obama and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Despite her close ties with the Democratic political community, she has described herself as a change agent who will marshal “all of the resources, all of the skills, the knowledge, the talent of the city” to get homeless people into housing.

She has said she intends to get over 17,000 homeless people into housing in her first year through a mix of interim and permanent facilities.

She also will contend with entrenched urban problems that include a housing shortage, crumbling streets and some of the nation’s worst traffic.

She replaces beleaguered Democrat Eric Garcetti, who ends two bumpy terms with his nomination to become U.S. ambassador to India stalled in the Senate, apparently over sexual misconduct allegations against a former top Garcetti adviser.

Click here to read the full article at AP News