Politics

What declaring a 'state of emergency' could do for LA's homeless

Tents used by the homeless line a downtown Los Angeles street with the skyline behind Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Tents used by the homeless line a downtown Los Angeles street with the skyline behind Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

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L.A. councilmembers made a big splash Tuesday when they pledged $100 million dollars to fighting homelessness. But it will take months to nail down where the money’s coming from, and what to spend it on. 

Councilmembers say in between now and then they need quicker fixes.

In the coming weeks, they’ll vote on whether to declare a state of emergency. Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Gil Cedillo, who co-authored the proposal, say taking this action will give the city broad powers to fast-track shelter projects like it would in a natural disaster.

If an earthquake struck, "we would definitely be spending a ton of money to get them off the street, and into proper services and housing as quickly as possible," Bonin told KPCC's Take Two.  "This is what we need to do now."

A movement to call a state of emergency has been building with the growing numbers of homeless. The population stands at more than 25,000, according to a recent count — a growth of 12 percent since 2013.

The councilmembers say with emergency powers, they’ll be able to shorten the process for churches and other faith groups to set up shelters.  They also want to open up city parking lots and facilities at night to people living out of their cars.

"They could go there from 7 (a.m.) to 7 (p.m.)," Cedillo told KPCC. "That’s where they can find some safe haven."

The long-range goal is to place homeless people in permanent housing with supportive services such as mental health counseling. Cedillo said, to that end, the city would prioritize affordable housing projects over other developments.

The proposed emergency declaration will go before the council's homelessness committee before heading to the full council for a vote. Seven of the council's 15 members have publicly showed their support for that proposal, as well as spending $100 million on homelessness programs at a news conference Tuesday.

Mayor Eric Garcetti also said that short-term fixes are needed now. He's calling for $13 million in emergency funds, mostly for rental subsidies for people who need short-term assistance getting off the streets.

This story has been updated.