Rep. Karen Bass (D-37), a candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles, hosted a press conference last Friday at the old St. Vincent Medical Center, which has been closed for nearly two years. She stood beside posters which stated that more than 60 percent of the homeless population in the city are people who are formerly incarcerated. 38 percent of them are Black and one in four homeless youth are former foster children.
“In my opinion, this is a disaster,” Bass said, noting that the city has more than 40,000 homeless persons sleeping on the L.A. streets and on average, three of them do not wake up in the morning. Additionally, local children often dodge tents on the sidewalks while walking to school.
Bass said Angelenos expect the city departments to urgently respond to the region’s earthquake disaster emergencies and homelessness should receive the same type of immediate response when solving the homeless catastrophe.
“This is the big one,” she said.
Bass strategically chose the hospital to make her policy announcement, saying that the facility can provide 344 beds for people in need and that shelter can be achieved, utilizing the unprecedented state funding now available.
The congresswoman has already sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, asking for a waiver that will allow St. Vincents to fill those beds adding that she will work with leaders to open the hospital immediately, without waiting for the next mayoral election.
She also said that, if elected, she will end street encampments during her first term.
“We need to pull out all the stops to save lives,” Bass said. “The homeless deserve solutions, not slogans.”
She added that if she becomes mayor, she will address the health and social issues facing the homeless by converting other shuttered buildings – motels, hotels, houses, etc. and staffing on the ground outreach workers and other health experts to work with the persons now living in tent cities throughout Los Angeles.
Reba Stevens stood beside Bass at the press conference and shared her lived experience as an unhoused individual who was suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues.
“For 21 years, I drank and lived on the streets,” said Stevens, who admitted she was in and out of jail and treatment facilities during that time. “I call it the horrors of homelessness.”
Stevens is now an advocate for the homeless at the city and county levels.
“There are just some things you don’t do outside and sleeping is one of them,” Bass concluded, noting that city, county, state and federal legislators need to be “in lock step together” to solve the homeless crisis. “Everybody has to come to the table.”