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Officials Launch Campaign to End Homelessness

By Jorge Casuso

April 7 -- If an ambitious 10-year plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles County is to succeed, Angelenos must stop being NIMBYs and government officials must roll up their sleeves and get to work.

That was the message delivered by local, County and Federal officials at a press conference Thursday morning to launch a major campaign to house and help the estimated 220,000 homeless men, women and children who sleep on the County's streets each year.

Hammered out by 60 local leaders -- including Santa Monica Council member Richard Bloom -- over the past three years, the Bring LA Home plan outlines more than 200 recommendations to help eradicate the largest concentration of homelessness in the nation.

Unveiled at a downtown Skid Row mission, the proposal calls for spending as much as $15 billion on 50,000 new units of affordable housing and services to prevent homelessness and quickly get people off the streets.

"Some would say this is just another press conference, that the recommendations are a litany of the things we have to do, that there's really not a plan," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the crowd that packed a large room at the Midnight Mission in Downtown LA's skid row.

"Every neighborhood in our city, every city in the region has to take up the burden," Villaraigosa said. "Not in my back yard. How dare you say you're not going to shoulder and work with one another, neighbor to neighbor… This plan requires Angelenos to stretch and go beyond."

Bloom agreed. “It will take the entire region working together cooperatively to have any impact on homelessness,” he said. “That effort is going to happen. We need the political will and power to act.” (see text of speech)

Officials estimate it will cost $1.5 billion a year to implement the plan, approximately what it currently costs for emergency room visits, police overtime and jailing the homeless, as well as revenues lost by tourism, said Mitchell Netburn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

Federal officials noted that 15 homeless people followed over the course of 18 months costs the City of San Diego $3 million.

“The cost of doing nothing is more expensive than the solutions that are being formulated,” said Phillip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in Washington D.C. “Without a plan, things only get worse.”

"The cost of doing nothing is astronomical," Villaraigosa said. "My mom used to say, 'You don't get something for nothing.' This is an investment, make no mistake, but in the end of the day, we will move to end homelessness."

The report -- which recommends a mix of private, state, federal and local funding, including bond measures -- comes as Los Angeles City and County officials have promised to spend more than $150 million to enhance housing and other services for the homeless.

The commitment marks a new partnership between governing bodies that have often been at odds, officials said.

"There's no antagonism between the City of LA and the County of LA," said County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke. "We're working together as partners."

"I think that it's great hat the City and County are racing," Villaraigosa said. "That's the new dawn."

Besides the funding needed to tackle the daunting problem, officials said they must combat the NIMBYism that makes it difficult to locate housing and services.

On Tuesday County supervisors backed down from plans to locate new homeless centers in suburban areas, opting instead for a $100 million effort to place facilities only in communities that want them.

"Anybody who would be a NIMBY on this issue, shame on them, shame on them," County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Thursday. "This is not a high rise building. This is not a toxic dump. These are human beings."

Yaroslavsky criticized those who fear shifting the problem from one community to another, those who say "let's not move this problem from here to there" and resist providing services that might draw people to their streets.

"The problem is acute in skif row, but that's not the only place we have the problem," said Yaroslavsky, who represents the county district that includes the Westside. "Every community has significant numbers of people. We don't need to bring homeless to those communities. We need to bring services and compassion."

LA City Council member Bill Rosendahl, who represents a Westside District that “embraces” Santa Monica, said his office phones “were ringing off the hook” after he was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, “We will all take our fair share of responsibility."

Rosendahl, whose district includes a potential site in Venice, reiterated his stance at Thursday’s press conference. “It can be put in such a way that it can be put in classy outfits,” he said of the proposed facilities. “We all need to take our share of responsibility.”

Rosendahl said that he and Santa Monica Council member Bobby Shriver are “looking at three buildings right now” on the Veterans Administration grounds in Westwood that could be turned into permanent housing with services for 600 homeless vets.

“This is a human tragedy of great dimensions,” said Rosendahl. “This is a disgrace we have to live with.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca said that 1,400 homeless individuals sleep in the county jail each night, making it the region’s largest homeless shelter. Officials, Baca said, should look to Pasadena and Santa Monica, cities that have proper outreach programs.

Baca also called for “a court for the homeless,” similar to the community courts proposed by former County Supervisor Ed Edelman, who was recently hired by the City of Santa Monica to help coordinate regional efforts to address the homeless problem.

The homeless, Baca said, are “put in jail for urinating on the street… (They) go to county jail just for the simple reason of attending to their bodily needs,” he said.

While acknowledging that homelessness is a national problem, local officials said it’s time to stop planning and start acting.

"This ten-year plan is a road map," said LA Council member Jan Perry, whose district includes "ground zero" in skid row. "Now we have to implement the best it has to offer."

"We have a lot of plans floating around," said Yaroslavsky. "The time for plans, the time for talking is over. It's time to act."

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