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Forum on Homelessness, Part 2: City Efforts and Funding

City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell speaks at the May 26 Homelessness Forum

On Thursday, May 26, the East Hollywood Los Feliz Homeless Coalition hosted a forum on the issue of homelessness, which aimed to shed light on the reasons behind the current homeless crisis, why the issue historically has been so hard to deal with, and how things have changed for the better in the way the city is approaching the problem.

The event was moderated by Douglas Walker, board chair of the EHLFHC.  Panel speakers included City Council Members David Ryu and Mitch O’Farrell, LAPD Captain Art Sandoval, Jonathan Hans from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Zahira Mann from the United Way’s Home for Good program, and Rudy Salinas from Housingworks, a non-profit group that addresses issues of AIDS and homelessness.   

Over the next few days, the Buzz is presenting a series of stories that summarize the forum’s presentations and provide a look at the public and private partnerships that are beginning to provide a brighter horizon for the homeless in Los Angeles.  This is Part 2 of the series.

ofarrell1Opening the panel statements on Thursday night, CD 13 representative Mitch O’Farrell anticipated what fellow Council Member David Ryu would expand on later, saying the current homeless crisis has grown over the last generation, due to a variety of factors.  He also said that the solution will not be fast or simple, but the city – and his office in particular – is addressing it in a number of ways.  And like others on Thursday’s panel, he expressed optimism that the city government and a variety of other groups and agencies are finally beginning to coordinate funding, services and responsibility for the issue in a new and meaningful way, rather than the individual approaches taken by those groups for most of the last 20 years.

O’Farrell also said that although “homelessness is the top concern of virtually every Angeleno,” solutions are complicated by the fact that only 2.7% of housing in Los Angeles is considered “affordable” (the lowest percentage in the nation), which makes finding housing for those currently on the street even more difficult.

Summing up local efforts to help with the problem, O’Farrell said his City Council District 13 office has provided seed money for the East Hollywood Los Feliz Homeless Coalition and contracts with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), another non-profit group, which assists with outreach.  O’Farrell said he also helped secure $1.9 million in funding for homeless services provided by Blessed Sacrament Church. Year-to-date, according to O’Farrell, his office has, through these services, reached out to 445 homeless individuals, provided 17 of them with housing vouchers, and placed several in permanent housing.

On the legislative side, O’Farrell said he has helped pass amendments to the Los Angeles Municipal Code that provide more tools to keep sidewalks clean while respecting the rights of homeless people…and there are several other homeless-related initiatives pending in the City Council’s Housing Committee.  He also said that the City Council is working to re-establish a revenue stream for an affordable housing trust fund, which used to be funded through the old Community Redevelopment Agency, but which has languished since the demise of that group several years ago. (Instead, affordable housing money now goes straight to the City’s General Fund.)

Another funding stream for affordable housing O’Farrell said he’s working on is an incremental finance fund for the L.A. River, which would include provisions for affordable housing.  According to O’Farrell, one quarter of all Angelenos live within a mile of the L.A. River, so plans and funding for revitalization of the river and the areas around it have a wide impact.

At the state level, said O’Farrell, there is a proposal to reconfigure bond funding to direct more money to mental health issues, which was recently endorsed by the L.A. Times.  According to the Times, under “the “No Place Like Home” initiative, proposed in January by State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the state would sell $2 billion in bonds to help local governments construct and rehabilitate housing specifically for the estimated 29,000 mentally ill homeless people in the state.”

Finally, O’Farrell described, and urged support for, a recent California Assembly Bill that would require developers to include affordable units in any housing project that would require a zone change to build.

Tomorrow:  What the data tells us about homelessness in Los Angeles.

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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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