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The Los Angeles mayor says she needs $1.3 billion to address homelessness in the city

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass waits to speak during a press conference on Jan. 24, 2023. Bass hopes to spend an unprecedented $1.3 billion towards programs to address homelessness in Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass waits to speak during a press conference on Jan. 24, 2023. Bass hopes to spend an unprecedented $1.3 billion towards programs to address homelessness in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass says she told President Biden that he could significantly reduce homelessness in the United States by helping to find shelter for the roughly 40,000 people in the city who are currently unhoused.

"[I] basically said, 'If your goal, Mr. President, is to reduce homelessness in the United States by 25%, you can literally meet that goal in our city for such a massive problem that I absolutely believe is an emergency,'" Bass said in an interview with All Things Considered on Saturday.

Bass, who campaigned on a promise to reduce LA's homeless population by 17,000 people in her first year of office, has vowed to spend an unprecedented $1.3 billion on programs to address homelessness.

The mayor's comments came days after she unveiled a new budget proposal that represents an almost 10% annual increase on spending that is focused on homelessness. But she acknowledged that federal support through various grant programs will be crucial if her plan is to succeed. Los Angeles has already received more than a quarter billion dollars from the Biden administration, Bass said.

"We are trying to lay the foundation and set the stage for what I hope will be a very significant reduction, especially in street homelessness this year," Bass said.

A significant chunk of the city's proposed spending will help underwrite motel rooms for people currently living on the street or in tent encampments. Los Angeles council members will review the budget proposals in the coming weeks. Approval is required by the end of May, with spending to then take effect in the new fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The city has already allocated $50 million for rooms, as part of a program called "Inside Safe" that has helped house around 1,000 previously homeless Angelenos. But the mayor's spending plan would set aside five times that amount, $250 million, with a portion of that spent on actually purchasing hotel and motel rooms to reduce the nightly costs. Bass recently said those overheads were "unsustainable" in the long term.

"There are no quick fixes and I will not engage in Band-Aid budgeting," Bass explained during a press conference Tuesday when she first detailed her spending plan.

Bass has asked city residents to work with authorities to support more home building too, as part of a long-term approach to overcoming the challenge, and beseeched landlords to accept government housing vouchers that are issued to help homeless or low-income individuals rent apartments.

The mayor has said she also intends to expand healthcare provision for the homeless through further funding for street medical teams, since community-based organizations currently working with unhoused populations across the city have struggled to scale sufficiently.

Bass took over as mayor last year from Eric Garcetti, who had himself overseen a roughly hundred-fold spending increase to tackle homelessness during his time in office. After she was sworn in, Bass declared homelessness a state of emergency.

This story was edited and produced for radio by Tinbete Ermyas and Tyler Bartlam. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]