L.A. County supervisors back Bass’ emergency declaration

Leaders from both the county and city of Los Angeles — two bureaucracies with massive roles to play in fixing the region’s worsening homelessness crisis — promised Tuesday to press reset on their fractured relationship.

The olive branch came during a Board of Supervisors meeting in which county leaders voted unanimously to support Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ declaration of a state of emergency over homelessness. Bass, who appeared at Tuesday’s meeting, said she wanted to work hand-in-hand with the county as she tries to cut through the city’s cumbersome bureaucracy to rapidly get people off the street.

“The only way we can really solve this crisis is if we are working in complete partnership,” Bass told the board.

Bass’ appearance marked a change in tenor between the city and county, whose relationship has grown increasingly fraught as the two jurisdictions quarreled over who should do what to help people living outside in clear crisis.

A federal lawsuit filed in 2020 by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, which alleged neither the city nor the county were doing enough to care for the region’s homeless population, drove the wedge only deeper as each bureaucracy accused the other of shirking its responsibility.

With a new mayor, a new supervisor and a new board chair, the region’s leaders signaled the days of finger-pointing are behind them. Bass said she will need the county on board as she embarks on a sweeping effort to speed up the creation of affordable housing and move people off the streets.

The county appeared eager to lend a hand Tuesday with the all-female board heaping praise on the new mayor.

“We have been working toward this,” Board Chair Janice Hahn said, “but I’m sorry I’m going to have to say it: It took a woman.”

Hahn, alongside Supervisor Kathryn Barger, crafted Tuesday’s motion, which asks the heads of the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Health Services and the Department of Public Social Services — the four county departments that make the most contact with the homeless population — to each name an appointee who will represent their department at city meetings related to Bass’ state of emergency.

The board says it will offer similar support to any other cities within Los Angeles County if they too decide to declare a state of emergency over homelessness.

The board is responding to an electorate adamant that the city and county band together to help the thousands of people living outside. A survey conducted last month found the vast majority of Los Angeles city residents — over 95% — wanted to see the city and county work together on homelessness.

That same poll suggested many voters, while desperate for action from the city on homelessness, were less preoccupied with the county. Only 38% of respondents felt the supervisors were most responsible for addressing homelessness; 62% said the mayor.

But the county has a significant — albeit less scrutinized — role to play in providing services to the tens of thousands of people living outside. The Department of Mental Health sends out psychiatrists to people with severe mental illness living on the street. The Department of Health Services sends out clinicians. The Department of Public Health assists with vaccinations.

The Department of Public Social Services offers cash assistance to those at risk of losing their home or already living on the street. And the county’s Homeless Initiative sets the budget for the pot of money generated from Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax that county voters passed in 2017 for homeless services.

Tuesday’s motion aims to give all four of the county departments seats at Bass’ table as she starts to cut the red tape that she says is keeping people on the streets. Under a state of emergency declaration, Bass can get money faster to homeless service providers and speed up the creation of affordable housing projects, among other powers.

Bass has promised to bring 17,000 people inside in her first year in office. There are more than 41,000 people who are homeless living in the city of Los Angeles, according to the most recent count. The count found roughly 69,000 people experiencing homelessness across L.A. County.

The supervisors said Tuesday they want to do more for the roughly 28,000 people experiencing homeless who live on streets outside the city of Los Angeles’ boundaries and will see little benefit from the city’s order. Barger called for the county to streamline its own permitting process, taking a page from Bass’ playbook.

“While the city stepped up,” Barger said, “we the county have to as well.”

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