The Answer to the Homeless Crisis in Los Angeles is Simple: House Keys, Not Handcuffs

City Leaders’ Proposal Lacks Resources for More Housing and Lacks Specifics about Changing the Policies of Criminalization

state-of-emergency-memeThis morning members of the LA City Council and Mayor Garcetti announced a “State of Emergency” on homelessness and promised an investment of $100 million toward services and housing. While this announcement is a step in the right direction, it is unacceptable that only $13 million in one-time funds were actually identified with no real plan for the additional $87 million or other long-term investments. Additionally, increases in financial resources towards this crisis will only work if the City abandons what has been its primary approach toward homelessness over the past decade: criminalizing the lives of homeless residents.

Let’s be clear – the City has invested millions upon millions of dollars toward homelessness in recent years. But far too much of that money has gone to LAPD to enforce unjust and often illegal laws that simply punish people for being poor and that make it even more difficult to get out of homelessness. Just last year LAPD spent $87 million of the $100 million that went toward homelessness out of the City’s general fund to arrest homeless residents. Citations, harassment, displacement, arrest, jailing – this is what that money is spent on, when there is only $10 million in general fund money in the City’s affordable housing trust fund. Is it any wonder then why homelessness is up 12% since 2013?

Lack of investment in housing production, poverty wages, an ever shrinking social safety net, and the most expensive rents in the country drive many of the 13,000 people A MONTH who are pushed into homelessness in LA County. But, make no mistake about it, it is the failed policy of criminalization through LAPD enforcement that prevents people from rising out of homelessness when the limited opportunities arise.

If the City Council and the Mayor are serious about ending homelessness, their announcements would include new and substantial sources of long-term funding combined with a call to end to laws, policies, and approaches that emphasize LAPD enforcement over services and housing. Homeless outreach workers cannot be successful without actual housing units to connect people to, and they can’t connect with someone who is in jail for ticket given to them for sitting on the sidewalk. What good is a meeting with a housing specialist if homeless person’s possessions are taken and potentially discarded during that appointment? What good are more outreach workers without more housing? We have a lot more questions than answers right now.

In short: You can’t use house keys when you are wearing handcuffs. We finally hear the City Council and Mayor talking about the crisis – now will they actually ensure house keys and call for an end to the handcuffs?