Los Angeles County proclaims local emergency for homelessness

Los Angeles County Seal.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously proclaimed a local emergency for homelessness in the county, which will remain in effect until its termination is made by the board. 

The motion authored by Supervisors Lindsey Horvath, 3rd District, and Kathryn Barger, 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, instructs the executive director of the homeless initiative, the director of the office of emergency management and all other county departments to take necessary steps for the protection of life, health and safety of homeless people. 

“This emergency proclamation boils down to cutting red tape. It’s the county’s job to provide the critical mental health, substance abuse treatment and case management services that make a world of difference in helping people experiencing homelessness get off of our streets and back on their feet,” Barger said in a statement to The Signal.  

“Our efforts have been hampered by a lack of personnel and bureaucratic processes that slow down our ability to hire, fill positions and contract for services,” she continued. “I am a proud co-author of this motion because we must continue battling homelessness with urgency and use all the tools at our disposal to do so.” 

According to the agenda, the proclamation lists six focal points — contracting and procurement, hiring, housing, services, spending, and communication and outreach.  

The 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count estimated approximately 69,144 unhoused residents, including 70% (48,548) who were unsheltered. Since 2015, the number of homeless individuals in the L.A. County has increased by 55% from 44,359 to 69,144, the supervisors wrote in their motion. 

“It was a clear signal to show the county’s constituents at large that the county is committed to supporting the emergency proclamation that the city of Los Angeles issued,” said Helen Chavez, Barger’s assistant chief deputy and communications director. 

“But there was language, specifically in this motion, that also talks about mobilizing county resources and making a commitment not just to the city of L.A. but to all other cities,” she added.  

According to Chavez, in recent months leading up to the proclamation, the county’s Department of Mental Health encountered a number of obstacles in terms of hiring the necessary staff to provide services such as case management services, mental health services, substance abuse services, and more. 

“L.A. County’s emergency declaration is about solving our homelessness crisis with care, with services and with the tools we know work,” Horvath wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, a day after the Board of Supervisors approved the motion. “It is not about criminalizing homelessness, nor is it about shuffling unhoused individuals from one sidewalk to another.” 

In addition, the Department of Mental Health does not have enough professionals to operate the different therapeutic bed settings to help individuals who may suffer from addiction or other physiological illnesses, county officials said. 

Chavez said there was a snowball effect that caused the issues at the Department of Mental Health to be as challenging as they are. Some of these contributing factors lie in the coronavirus pandemic, staff pursuing careers in the private sector for better pay, health reasons, and early retirement. 

“Circling back to the emergency proclamation of the county, that’s one of its big aims and fixes to make sure that the county can cut red tape,” Chavez said. “What this proclamation does is that it unties the county’s hands in a way in that it can go ahead now and quicken its hiring processes.” 

Chavez also noted two key elements of the proclamation: Empowering and identifying a clear lead — the county’s homeless initiative office within the county’s chief executive office — and ensuring the board received timely data so the board can gauge progress and fix gaps.  

The proclamation of a local emergency will continue some of the work the county has already begun, Chavez added. In July 2022, the Board of Supervisors created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness, BRCH, to assess existing systems and provide recommendations on reforms to help the county and cities solve homelessness. 

The BRCH outlined a variety of recommendations, with many of them focused on the restructuring of the governance response to homelessness, which included establishing multi-year funding for local jurisdictions; streamlining and improving the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority operations; simplifying the governance of the Greater Los Angeles Continuum of Care; utilizing data and metrices; and creating an executive-level action team. 

“It keeps the momentum going from the Blue-Ribbon work,” Chavez said. “Doing it in a way that will keep the county addressing homelessness with urgency, and that’s been Supervisor Barger’s key focus, as well.” 

According to the motion, many of these services, provided by LAHSA, are paid for by Measure H, a sales tax measure to fund homeless services and prevention, which was approved by voters in L.A. County in 2017. 

In the past four years, more than 20,000 unhoused individuals have been placed into housing each year and nearly 90% remain in housing. But, at the same time, tens of thousands of new individuals have become unhoused, according to county staff. 

The Board of Supervisors’ actions followed L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’ recent declaration of an emergency. The city of Long Beach also declared a local state of emergency on homelessness Tuesday night during its City Council meeting. 

“There’s a strong collaboration that we’re seeing from the get-go, and this emergency proclamation from the county just reinforces that sense of, ‘We’re in this together,’” Chavez said. “This is something else that [Barger] has continued to message clearly on, is that homelessness doesn’t know boundaries, it doesn’t know jurisdictions. So, collaboration is really key.” 

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