To combat the city’s persistent and lingering homelessness crisis, Los Angeles needs to appoint a senior-level official who will lead the charge in getting facilities for the homeless built at a much faster pace, City Attorney Mike Feuer said Monday.
During a talk at City Hall, Feuer suggested that homelessness should be treated like an emergency by hiring someone who can operate like a top-level, federal official responding to disaster situations such as hurricanes.
“The style of person I have in mind is a FEMA-director style, someone who has experience with complicated logistical issues,” and who is “not going to take no for an answer,” Feuer told reporters.
Feuer said this person would tackle the problem of potential community opposition to facilities serving the homeless, such as storage areas and temporary housing.
While the city already has a “homelessness czar” who oversees program funding and operational matters related to homelessness, this new city official would also approach the issue with greater urgency, Feuer said.
“Think of that person as the field general,” he said.
“It’s not that that person is going to unilaterally impose his or her will in the city,” Feuer said. Rather, that person would be able to get things done because he or she is someone “who lives and breathes this issue, who speaks with real horsepower and can deliver.”
Feuer argued that each City Council district ought to have at least one facility built or made available, such as a place for the homeless to store their belongings, a private or public parking lot where people can live in their cars, or temporary housing. At the moment, there is just one storage facility serving the entire city, and the safe parking program has been slow to get started.
“If we’re going to say you shouldn’t be on the street, we have to have viable places for you to be,” he said. “If we’re going to say your possessions should be safely stored, we ought to have places to safely store possessions.”
Feuer said he is ready to step in and do what he can to help take the political “heat” off individual City Council members who are trying to build facilities in their areas. He said he has been holding public meetings around the city, including in the San Fernando Valley, to help build support for the projects.
“I’ve been speaking with council members and I’ve been saying to them that I will stand with them and expend political capital when they have programs or sites that they are talking about in their districts — there may be controversy surrounding them — and support that,” he said.
The timing is right to take more action on the issue, according to Feuer.
With Proposition HHH, a homeless housing bond measure, and Measure H, a sales tax measure that raises funds for services, going into effect recently, voters are expecting to see the number of people who are homeless decrease, Feuer said.
And there may be more willingness among residents to allow facilities to get built near them, since homelessness has grown and is now prevalent beyond the Skid Row area in downtown Los Angeles, he said.
“Now, there is no way someone in Los Angeles can say, (homelessness) is someone else’s problem,” Feuer said. “It’s everybody’s problem, and that creates a special opportunity.”