The number one issue concerning Angelenos is homelessness. We see it in the news and in political polls. Homelessness is something Angelenos encounter in their everyday lives, on their way to work, school, or to shop. Like sunshine and traffic, homelessness is now part of the LA brand.
As part of the Committee for Greater LA, I, along with Peter Laugharn of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, are leading a non-governmental effort to finally put in place a regional strategy to significantly reduce homelessness in Los Angeles. Building on our previous work addressing homelessness, through a series of focus groups we asked Angelenos what they think. Their answers may surprise you.
Angelenos have lost faith in local government to reduce homelessness. Voters expressed this view irrespective of their race, ethnicity, gender, age, political affiliation, or place of residence. They are fully aware of the investments they have made through the ballot box but see no evidence that the additional revenue is delivering on the promise to end homelessness.
Angelenos are proximate in their daily lives to those experiencing homelessness and feel compassion for unhoused veterans and people suffering from mental illness and addiction. They are angry that there is no system to house and treat the most vulnerable. Angelenos respect the perspective of those who have experienced homelessness and believes that their struggle provides critical insight on the solutions needed to end homelessness. Angelenos also trust providers and not-for-profit organizations that are on the ground responding to the crisis.
Angelenos have astutely diagnosed the problem. Efforts to respond to the crisis are seen as disjointed, uncoordinated, lacking transparency, and not at the scale needed. They don’t see any accountability on how tax dollars are being spent, no regional plan to evaluate progress, and no consensus on the best practices to deal with the crisis. Most of all, they do not see anyone in charge.
Angelenos have not given up and offer important insights on the answer. To fill the obvious void of leadership, Angelenos want an independent entity that tells the truth, offers clear data and leads in building consensus around a comprehensive and realistic plan. They want a transparent body with measurable, realistic goals, one that is ambitious enough to generate the momentum needed to move people into treatment and housing. Accountability is essential to build confidence and gain support for additional public investment.
During this election year, candidates running for supervisor and LA Mayor and City Council are feeling the pressure to offer their panacea to this chronic challenge. We urge them to listen carefully to what Angelenos have to say. Don’t misinterpret their legitimate frustration and hostility as an excuse to take a unilateral approach. Angelenos know that no LA Mayor can end homelessness on their own when treatment for mental illness and addiction is entirely under the County’s control. They know that no LA Councilmember can ultimately eradicate homelessness in their district without one unified and accountable citywide strategy guided by best practices and clear policy guidelines and goals. Angelenos understand that no Supervisor can credibly promise to end homelessness, if they don’t curb the flow of people entering the ranks of the unhoused resulting from our broken mental health, incarceration, and child welfare systems. Solutions require a change in state law and housing built in cities.
We encourage candidates and those in elected office today to advance a more accountable and coordinated system by reaching a global settlement on pending litigation involving street homelessness and mental health services, developing one countywide plan to invest the unprecedented infusion of federal and state dollars to local government, and to engage with the County Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, established by the Board of Supervisors, on potential options.
As Angelenos have observed, the complicated factors that contribute to the crisis means that there are no easy answers. It starts by establishing one point of accountability that benefits from the voices of those who have experienced homelessness. Any credible solution needs to have clear data, goals, and transparency. Most of all, a plan forward requires clarity of roles and thoughtful coordination between governments and service providers.
Angelenos have not given up on having one accountable and transparent system, and neither should those seeking to represent them.
Miguel A. Santana
President and CEO, Weingart Foundation
Chair, Committee for Greater LA