Random Lengths News

Why I’m Running for City Council

- By Bryant Odega

In LA’s 15th Council District, a 2003 graduate of Banning High School — a guy who was captain of the swim team — lives in one of the encampment­s of homeless people in the LA Harbor region. On June 29, 2021, he shared his story at a press conference hosted by Street Watch LA.

“We’re people too,” the man said. “We’re just homeless just trying to find our way back into homes.”

Of course, these days many people share this predicamen­t. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are 2,257 people experienci­ng homelessne­ss in District 15. Across the city there are more than 41,000 people experienci­ng homelessne­ss. Black people account for one-third of them — although we are only 9% of LA’s total population.

This crisis has become the humanitari­an crisis of LA. As the second largest city in the U.S. with a GDP larger than Sweden’s, LA has the resources and the responsibi­lity to address this issue with the urgency, compassion, and scale required. Instead, council members like Joe Buscaino defend the use of Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18, an anti-camping law which went into effect Sept. 3, to outlaw and essentiall­y criminaliz­e homelessne­ss. Buscaino goes even further by arguing that this “new

process is slow, unnecessar­ily bureaucrat­ic, and monopolize­s valuable resources” and instead is pushing for a more punitive measure than 41.18. The new measure would be representa­tive of Joe Buscaino’s failure to address homelessne­ss.

The cost of housing in Los Angeles has skyrockete­d over the past couple of years leaving fewer and fewer low-cost housing options available. According to a report in 2019, the average cost of rent in the city was $2,527, an increase of 65% over the past decade, much higher than the national average. For those who can’t find a home in the housing market, finding one in public housing is also a challenge. The City of Los Angeles only has 6,500 public units available, with over 45,000 people on the waiting list.

To put it into perspectiv­e, New York City owns nearly 170,000 public housing units. A study conducted by the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy found that nearly 73% of households spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Nearly half are severely rent-burdened, meaning households like mine spend more than 50% of our incomes to pay the rent. These factors all contribute to the homelessne­ss crisis we see today.

Another challenge to solving the homelessne­ss crisis is the lack of political capacity from our city’s leaders to act urgently and accordingl­y. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed city budget includes $800 million to tackle homelessne­ss, with a portion going to the Los Angeles Police Department and the carrying out of encampment sweeps, and increases LAPD’s budget to $1.7 billion, the largest ever, despite calls from community residents to reallocate funds from police into community programs and services, after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 reignited a reckoning on the racial injustices in America, especially in the policing system.

Even worse, the allocation of those housing funds going towards patrolling and so-called sweeps represent a disconnect city leaders have with this moral issue. Joe Buscaino has been pushing for CARE+, also known as sweeps, as a model for managing sanitation and homeless encampment­s in the City of LA. In a coordinate­d effort, unhoused Angelenos are forced to relocate and remove all of their belongings. With 41.18

now in effect, these sweeps are expected to happen even more frequently. The problem with these sweeps is that you can not “sweep” human beings away.

Unhoused Angelenos are like every other resident of Los Angeles: children, veterans, someone’s mother, brother, etc. The moral crisis of homelessne­ss is not something that can be “swept” away either. It is certainly not something we should be punishing people for when the affordabil­ity of the rental housing market is beyond the control of individual residents.

One out of three uses of force by LAPD involves an unhoused Angeleno.

When Black and Latino communitie­s are overrepres­ented in the homeless population, using police violence as a response to this crisis only further deepens the racial and economic injustice in our society.

On Oct. 20, the LA City Council approved of 54 locations to ban homeless encampment­s. The cost of making the signs for these locations is about $2 million. $2 million, not for homeless services, not for permanent housing, but for anticampin­g signs. Buscaino called to ban unhoused residents from 161 new locations, all in District 15. Putting up signs does not solve homelessne­ss. Putting public resources to criminaliz­e and further stigmatize unhoused residents is putting public resources away from real solutions like creating and building permanent housing.

Buscaino had 10 years to act. Over those years rent has gone up, affordable housing became scarce, and economic opportunit­ies for the many have become hard to find. Calls by city leadership to criminaliz­e and stigmatize people who are trying to get by and find their way back to housing miss the mark for what these times call for. The issue of homelessne­ss is a systematic problem, but by punishing the most vulnerable for sleeping on the streets, 41.18 encapsulat­es the failed leadership of one of the most powerful cities in the country. To fix this problem, we must put homelessne­ss above politics and invest in resources and solutions that center people.

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