The City Council voted on a series of proposals to combat homelessness in Los Angeles on November 17, 2015. Below is an update from Mike about the progress being made. 


I wanted to give you a bit of an update on efforts the City of LA is making regarding homelessness.  

Shelter Crisis/ State of Emergency

Today, the City Council unanimously approved my motion, declaring a “state of shelter crisis” in Los Angeles and directing the City Attorney to take several steps to make it easier to provide shelter on public property, provide shelter on private property, and create an LA version of the much-praised Santa Barbara Safe parking program.

Currently, state law gives the city the ability to declare a shelter emergency, making it easier to open shelters and other emergency facilities. But in the 1980s, the city handcuffed itself and limited its own ability through enabling ordinances, restricting shelter emergencies to 120 days per year, and only in the winter. Today, we directed City Attorney to revise the ordinances, giving us maximum ability to create shelter space on city property, and make it easier for churches and nonprofits to do so on their property. We also directed the City Attorney to amend other ordinances to give us the legal framework to create a Safe Parking program, and directed the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to start developing such a program.

This action has been referred to as a “state of emergency” and in some ways is similar. But true and full state of emergency, according to City Charter, can only be declared by the mayor. Or by the state or federal government. I’d welcome it is anyone of them did so. 

Winter Shelter Program

My efforts to open the shelters early were successful. They opened Nov 1, and we will keep the shelters open 24/7 when it is raining, and extend the program to the end of the wet weather season. 

Personal Belongings in the Public Right of Way

Today, we took steps to strip LAMC 56.11 of much of what many people felt were provisions that criminalized homelessness. In giving instructions to the City Attorney to draft a revised ordinance, the council tried to strike a better balance between our need to clear out public rights of way, and the rights of the homeless who have no alternative but to live on our sidewalks.

In a big chance from the current and previous versions of the ordinance, I suggested and the Homelessness Committee and council agreed that we should deal differently with unattended belongings (those that remain on a sidewalk 24 hours or more after notification has posted) and attended belongings (when someone is there with their bedroll, backpack etc.). This is an area where the current version of the ordinance over-reached significantly — and inappropriately threatened seizure of medications, personal documents, etc. While the city retains its right to remove and store (for 90 days, per Lavan protocol) unattended belongings, I proposed a major change in policy — that the city cannot remove attended belongings unless we have available, in close proximity, free voluntary storage. This will force the city to do what it has failed to do for years-provide sufficient storage space. And by giving people a place to store their belongings other than the sidewalk, our sidewalks will be cleaner. 

There are still several members of the council who want to see 56.11 contain misdemeanor penalties. When the City Attorney’s draft ordinance comes back for a vote, I suspect that issue will be discussed again.

Storage Facilities

Today, we directed city staff to come back with a proposed citywide system of voluntary storage facilities. The council directed that there be at least one storage facility in each of the 15 council districts. Ideally, we want there to be a social service component and CES intake at each facility, and, where feasible, bathrooms, showers, etc.

Homeless Coordinator

To better manage city homeless initiatives and give them higher priority, the council today took the first steps to create a position of Homelessness Czar or Homelessness Services Coordinator. 

$100 Million Commitment

Earlier this fall, the City Council President committed to identifying $100 million for homelessness initiatives and services. The CAO’s office should have recommendations for funding sources after the first of the year, but we created the account today for those funds to be deposited into and dispersed from. While this sounds like a clerical issue, it was the first time the full council voted to affirm the commitment of the council president and several members of the council (me included) to come up with the money.

HUD, LAHSA and Transitional Housing Programs

I understand that due to HUD rules, LAHSA has had to pull some transitional housing programs from its funding requests.  My colleague Marqueece Harris-Dawson and I appreciate the perilous situation this causes, potentially forcing thousands out on to the streets, and we are looking to find ways the city can help with funding, or can help certain groups repurpose to better align with available funding.  Stay tuned on that.

Lava Mae

I am still pursing whether we can have portable showers or toilets, similar to the Lava Mae operation in San Francisco.  I can get buses from LA Metro, and water from LADWP.  In San Francisco, a willing nonprofit (Lava Mae) did the rest, retrofitting the buses and running the mobile shower program.  I am seeking a nonprofit that can do that here, and am speaking with Lava Mae to see if they might be willing to expand to Los Angeles.

Master Leasing Programs & Shared Housing

My colleagues and I have been impressed with Master Leasing programs (such as OPCC and County Health have).  The programs have had great success at moving people off the streets quickly and making it less onerous for landlords for provide units, effectively creating more affordable units.  We are looking to invest in such a system of Master Leasing — and of shared housing — in the city homeless strategy, which will be ready in Jan or Feb (to coincide with the county strategy.) 

Pace and Progress

Unfortunately, none of what the council did today has an immediate impact. We took what I consider to be baby steps in a larger effort. I wish we could move with lightning speed (and several of my “shelter crisis” motions are designed to jumpstart things), but the City Attorney’s office keeps discovering hurdles in the City Charter or in state law (particularly CEQA, which, despite its many virtues and benefits, is a huge impediment to siting services.)

More news to come, soon.  

Best wishes,