Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, at podium, is welcomed to deliver her first State of the City address from City Hall in Los Angeles, Monday, April 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)B Y MICHAEL R. BLOOD
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic Mayor Karen Bass, who was elected in November after promising to take on the city’s out-of-control homeless crisis, announced Monday she would recommend spending what she called a record $1.3 billion next year to get unhoused people into shelter and treatment programs.
The funding to be included in the mayor’s upcoming budget could be used in part to buy hotels or motels that would be converted to housing, while the city combs through its inventory of properties for those that could be used for sheltering homeless people. The former congresswoman’s remarks, in an annual address to City Council on the state of the city, came roughly four months into her first term.
Bass added that the budget also would include funds for substance abuse treatment beds for the unhoused, but she did not specify how many. And her signature program, dubbed Inside Safe that offers homeless people motel rooms and a path to permanent housing with services, has over 1,000 enrollees so far, she said.
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised to deliver 500 units of temporary housing to the city, while the Biden administration has sent the city and county more than $200 million for homeless programs, she added.
“After years of frustration ... we can see a clearer path to a new Los Angeles,” Bass said, speaking inside the ornate City Council chambers. And “we have finally dispelled the myth that people do not want to come inside. They do.”
However, Bass added that much work needed to be done. “I cannot declare that the state of our city is where it needs to be,” she said.
Bass’ overall optimism would be expected for a mayor in the early months of a first term, but it also belies looming challenges that could reshape her time in office.
The city has expanded spending on homeless programs for years — then-Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a budget in 2021 with nearly $1 billion in homeless spending — but the unhoused population has continued to increase. Bass’ challenge is in plain sight in just about any neighborhood: homeless people living in trash-strewn encampments or rusty RVs along streets, below underpasses and clustered around freeway exits.
About half the homeless population — totaling over 40,000 citywide — struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, and about a third have serious mental illnesses. Homeless deaths average five a day.
Some economists see a recession coming that could slash city tax revenue at a time when Bass is expanding homeless spending, though opinions are divided on the direction of the economy. A recent report from city Controller Kenneth Mejia outlined a series of other concerns, including the need to investment more in repairing crumbling streets and sidewalks and higher pension costs for retirees that “already consume fully 15% of the city’s general fund budget.” Meanwhile, crime rates have been climbing, including for car thefts and shootings, while the police department has seen its staffing levels drop. Bass warned the number of police officers could drop below 9,000 – a tally not seen since 2002.
Bass said her budget for the year that begins July 1 recommends hiring hundreds of officers, along with a recruitment campaign and incentives for new hires. It also funnels new dollars into a team of social workers and clinical psychologists who could respond to emergency calls when a police officer is not required.
“We know safety goes far beyond lights and sirens,” she said.
Bass, the first Black woman to serve as LA’s mayor who was on President Joe Biden’s short list for vice president, defeated billionaire businessman Rick Caruso in the November election. She anchored her campaign to getting homeless people off the streets and into shelters, reversing spiking crime rates and developing housing that working-class families can afford.