A ‘Homeless Czar’ and Shortcuts to Housing Brighten 2018 for LA’s Homeless

DEEGAN ON LA-Chances are it will be a happier year for the homeless in 2018 than it was in 2017, thanks to a couple of proposed ordinances that would expedite housing, an abundance of programs for many types of homeless, and possibly even having a “Homeless Czar” at City Hall. 

There are now two proposed ordinances winding their way through the political process, aimed at helping to establish a quicker route toward placing the homeless in supportive housing. The Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance  assists housing projects where there are also supportive services, including on-site case management for the homeless, while the Motel Conversion Ordinance proposes converting motel rooms, with the possible addition of small kitchens, into homeless housing.  

Even with this, and other gains that will eventually come from the 2016 voter-passed Prop HHH we will not have 100% success housing all the homelessness, and cannot be falsely expecting that our streets could ever be cleared of all people in need of housing, but both proposed ordinances would be helpful. 

Prop HHH uses a more traditional method of finding the land, getting the entitlements, and receiving community buy-in from neighborhood councils and homeowner associations that may cry NIMBY to keep new homeless housing out of their neighborhoods. These steps take time to develop, which is why the two ordinances are important to help shortcut the delays. With $1.2 billion available in General Obligation Bonds, it’s not money that’s slowing Prop HHH down. 

Although we often treat the homeless as a different species, they are people just like us except for their balance sheets and lack of housing. Could anxiety about the homelessness be reduced by getting to know more about them, and not viewing them just as a generic group? 

Some may be acutely mentally ill. Triaging them, as a priority, continues to be the most compassionate action we can take. Stabilized and housed -- preferably in reverse order -- the mentally ill who will accept help can become productive again. 

Some may be with us forever as the flow of the homeless into the region may never be stopped. Our climate is welcoming, and there are many resources available for help, but will there ever be enough capacity to house everyone that needs sheltering. The sight of the homeless in Los Angeles could be as permanent as the sight of beggars on the streets of Mumbai. 

Some may believe they are making a preferable lifestyle choice that provides them freedom from accountability, no matter the downsides of that independence. 

Knowing a little about the different types of people suffering from homelessness can help us understand who they are. An unscientific classification would include these clusters:

  • Mentally ill -- A report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that “17,000 of the county’s 58,000 homeless people (or 29%) say they have been diagnosed with a mental illness.”
  • Displaced and evicted tenants – This category of homeless has experienced eviction by landlords demolishing rent stabilized housing to create market rate housing that is priced above what the displaced tenants had paid, or may be able to afford. For some, the streets become a transition to their next sheltering.
  • Substance abusers using drugs and/or alcohol -- As most recovery programs say: “it’s attraction not promotion” that brings addicts and alcoholics into recovery rooms. They must want recovery, and there are meetings everywhere, every day, where they can get it. Considering that Los Angeles is popularized as “ground zero” for drug and alcohol recovery programs, it’s easy to Find A Meeting
  • Teens and youth – They are served by organizations like My Friend’s Place and the Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership.  
  • Mothers with children – They can find women's shelters, family shelters, transitional housing, residential treatment centers and other residential services at Shelters For Women.  
  • Vets – They have a wide range of services available for them and their families through local administration of Federal programs focused on Homeless Veterans
  • Lifestyle choosers – They may not yet trust caregivers, or want to experience life without being accountable to shelter or housing rules, caseworkers or others they may see as imposing regulations. They are like modern day cowboys on the asphalt range. 

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer pitched the idea of creating a “Homeless Czar” in a Times op-ed piece a few days ago. He sees a need for “mission-driven, accountable, even impatient leadership on homelessness — leadership that is both focused and empowered to make things happen.” He points out that “the region’s leadership on homelessness is diffuse.” 

With centralized leadership provided by a strong czar, and the continued prioritization of identifying and treating the mentally ill homeless, more supportive housing through the two proposed ordinances, and some forward motion on Prop HHH, the homeless could look forward to an even better 2018 than expected.


(Tim Deegan, is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appears in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.