Homelessness in Los Angeles—Part One: the Safer City Initiative

With over 40,000 homeless living on its streets, Los Angeles is the homeless capital of the country. The largest cluster of those homeless men and women—nearly four thousand—lives on Skid Row, just in the shadow of city hall, where city and county government make policy decisions about the issue. Nearly five years after Mayor Villaraigosa’s ambitious Skid Row Safer City Initiative—the policing strategy that placed 50 additional officers in the fifty block area of downtown’s Skid Row—we look back at whether or not it accomplished what it set out to and what is left to be done to address homeless issues downtown and throughout the county. We begin this two-part series on homelessness by tracing the SCI from its inception as an idea on the pages of 1982 Atlantic magazine, to the streets of Los Angeles. Did SCI deliver both the policing and social service components it promised, and was it the best use of resources? Is policing a necessary but insufficient part of the solution or just a way of criminalizing homelessness? You’ll hear from the people affected by it—police, policymakers, and the homeless themselves.

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