L. A. in 'state of emergency' over homelessness. Is money the answer?

The number of homeless on Los Angeles streets has increased, prompting city officials to declare a state of emergency and propose $100 million a year to combat the problem. 

Mary Knox Merrill/File/The Christian Science Monitor
A homeless woman stands next to her possessions on 7th Street in the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The homelessness population in Los Angeles is now so large that officials said Tuesday that they would declare the situation a public emergency.

The announcement, made by the City Council and mayor Eric Garcetti, included plans to pledge $100 million of the city’s budget toward housing projects and other initiatives to help the homeless, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“This city has pushed this problem from neighborhood to neighborhood for too long, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy,” Garcetti said during a news conference. “Every single day we come to work, we see folks lying on this grass, a symbol of our city’s intense crisis.”

This year, the city's homeless population was estimated to be 25,686, a 12 percent increase since 2013, according to a recent survey by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The survey reports that 43 percent are unsheltered, and the number of tents, makeshift shelters, and occupied vehicles rose by 81 percent, to 5,706.

“Ending homelessness is a moral imperative that also makes financial sense for our city,” LA City Councilman Paul Krekorian explained to CBS Los Angeles. “We spend millions of dollars each year to manage the problem, but without any strategy or long term goals.

“The major investment of city resources that we’re proposing today is a serious attempt to find a solution to homelessness in Los Angeles,” said Krekorian. “We need a well-funded, multi-year plan that is sustainable and supports the people in our city who need it most.”

Some American cities are making efforts to tackle the problem.

For instance, Dallas is building shelters for the homeless and, starting in November, 50 chronically homeless individuals will move into their own cottages. In the process, Dallas is saving taxpayers a significant amount of funds. According to the Dallas Morning News, a homeless person who cycles through the prison system and emergency health services on average costs the county about $40,000 a year. Keith Ackerman, executive director of Cottages at Hickory Crossing, told Huffington Post that the initiative will bring down those costs to less than $13,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Hawaii is transforming buses into living, sleeping, showering, and recreational facilities for the homeless population.

Los Angeles's $100 million proposal is subject to approval by the City Council and the money will be used to find permanent housing for the homeless and to fund shelter programs. The first payment is slated for January 1, 2016. 

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