Sheriff criticizes city, county response to homelessness

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva is questioning the approach of government officials tackling the region’s homelessness crisis, alleging that building new housing units for the homeless only encourages more transients to move here from other parts of the country.

The sheriff specifically criticized the Los Angeles City Council’s decision Aug. 10 to set a goal of creating at least 25,000 homeless housing units in the city by 2025.

They have no concept of what happens when you house 25,000 people with homes that are built at great expense and they’re replaced on the street by another 25,000 or 50,000 from the rest of United States. Then what? Have we improved anything? Of course not,” Villanueva said during his weekly social media forum Aug. 11.

The city, county and state have committed billions of dollars in recent years to providing housing for the homeless. In 2016, Los Angeles voters passed Proposition HHH, which enabled the city to issue $1.2 billion in bonds for the development of permanent supportive housing units.

Villanueva instead called for building shelter space, safe camping and RV parking space and permanent supportive housing for the mentally ill and gravely disabled.

That’s it — nobody else,” he said. “For every house you build, all you’re telling someone else from another state is ‘Hey, come to California, get in line, you too can get your permanent housing.’”

The region’s homelessness agency disputed the sheriff’s contentions.

“The crisis we see on our streets is directly attributed to the high cost of living, lack of affordable housing and failed safety net systems that are perpetuated by systemic racism,” said Heidi Marston, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “While we are housing more people than ever before — 65,000 over the last three years — we must build affordable housing at scale and ramp up mental and physical health support for our unhoused neighbors.”

In its 2020 Homeless Count, authority officials said 59% of newly homeless individuals cited economic hardship as the main cause for their homelessness, and 80% of unsheltered Angelenos had lived in the county for more than five years.

According to the authority, the California Housing Partnership recently determined Los Angeles County needs nearly 500,000 affordable homes to meet the needs of residents, and further said that renters in the county need to earn 2.5 times L.A.’s minimum wage to afford the average monthly rent of $1,988.

City Councilman Kevin de León, who introduced the motion for the city’s goal of creating 25,000 housing units by 2025, said Villanueva “is making an argument for doing nothing.”

The people of Los Angeles, regardless of their political identity, are interested in real solutions, he said. “Like it or not, we took the bold step to commit to 25×25. Rather than stoking anger and fear among Angelenos, we’re focused on getting folks off the streets.”

Villanueva — who has repeatedly criticized policies for addressing the homelessness crisis — bemoaned the fact that proposals from Gov. Gavin Newsom, the county Board of Supervisors, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council all amounted to “Let’s build more permanent housing.”

Affordable housing for the working-class poor? Yes, cause they’re working their tails off to put that roof over their head, put food on the table, yes,” he said. “But we have to do something that I don’t think anyone’s even spoke about yet. We have to demand something from the homeless.

We have to demand agency. Which means you have to get out, put down the crack pipe, stop smoking dope 24/7. Take charge of your life. Have a plan, do something about it. And if you need help, reach for it, and we’ll provide that help,” Villanueva added.

“What we can’t do — if you’re an able-bodied, willing adult who does not want to work and just wants to live the nomadic lifestyle and be a drifter … L.A. is not for you, and will never be for you. That is my promise.”

Villanueva celebrated the recent clearing of homeless encampments along the Venice boardwalk, but said his office has been “inundated with requests from individual cities asking for assistance with homeless problems.”

The sheriff also provided a minor update on rising crime rates in the county, reporting that homicides are up 70% from last December, when the number was up 36% from the year before. Aggravated assaults with firearms and unlawful shootings were up 47% from last year, he added.

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