LA mayor promises plan for ending homelessness

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Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday promised he would release a plan in August that would be a blueprint to end homelessness in Los Angeles. 

"Today we declare war on homelessness in this city," Garcetti said at the opening of the New Pershing Apartments, a 69-unit, $32 million complex built by Skid Row Housing Trust devoted to housing formerly homeless, most of them military veterans. Out of the funding, $3.5 million came from the city.

He whipped out a pair of giant scissors to cut the customary grand opening ribbon and gave a speech, but didn't leave time for reporters' questions before leaving the event.

More than 25,000 Angelenos are homeless, according to a count conducted in January. Theoretically, at least, Garcetti said the city knows how to get that number to zero.

"We know what doesn't work--the criminalization of the homeless is unacceptable, the sweeping them up, the moving them around," he said. "We know what works is giving people a home and the help they need to stay in that home."

A patchwork of funding sources 

In his annual budget, Garcetti proposed adding $10 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides a highly relied upon source of financing for developments in the city, including the one that opened Thursday.

The fund used to get a lot of state redevelopment dollars, but those were eliminated in 2011. The fund has about $41 million left. Half of the new money Garcetti pledged is supposed to come from a tax on vacation rentals through websites like Airbnb  though the city has yet to reach a deal with the companies.

Garcetti said Thursday federal and state officials haven't come through in providing necessary funds to tackle L.A.'s homeless problem. He encouraged homeless advocates to lobby for it.

In the meantime, some government agencies have gotten creative about using existing funds to house at least some of the tens of thousands of people living on the streets in Los Angeles.

Carlos VanNatter, head of the Section 8 program at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, said his agency has devoted 16,000 of its rental assistance vouchers to homeless and populations at risk for homelessness, like foster youth. 

L.A. County's Department of Health Services has also put some of its own budget into subsidizing housing for homeless who are frequent users of the county's public health system, but have never been able to get stable housing.

"In many cases we've spent $150,000 on emergency health care interventions, said Marc Trotz of the Department of Health Services. "That's insane. And of course, they're still homeless. Let's spend that money on something that can make a real difference."

So far, the county health department has provided rental assistance for 1,000 apartments in L.A. County, with another 1,500 planned by the end of the year.

A state bill that would provide tens of millions of dollars in affordable housing funding to Los Angeles is also making its way through the legislature. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, AB 1335 is currently stalled in the California Assembly.

Correction: This story originally gave a timeline to the mayor's plan to end homelessness. KPCC regrets the error.

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