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Karen Bass fuses coalitions to solve city issues

Earlier this year, Mayor Karen Bass visited two homeless tent sites in South L.A. as part of the Inside Safe Initiative, which works to identify high-need homeless encampments that have chronic demands for services.


Mayor celebrates 100th day in office March 22

Earlier this year, Mayor Karen Bass visited two homeless tent sites in South L.A. as part of the Inside Safe Initiative, which works to identify high-need homeless encampments that have chronic demands for services.

In addition to launching Inside Safe, Bass issued an Emergency Declaration on Homelessness; activated the city’s Emergency Operations Center; and issued an Executive Directives to lower the cost of affordable and temporary housing and maximize the use of city-owned property for housing, all within her first 100 days as mayor.

Granted, there are a pile of other city concerns on her plate — LAPD training, minority discrimination, hate crimes, the LAUSD, internet access equity, job development, growing businesses, mental health crises, the upcoming World Cup and Olympic events, etc. But from the start, Bass has said the issue of homelessness is her priority.

As a former healthcare worker, she is concerned about illnesses and deaths among those living on the streets. Then, too, city residents are concerned for the safety of their families with so many tent city-like areas in their communities.

Inside Safe is designed to be a proactive housing-led strategy to bring people inside from tents and encampments for good, and to prevent encampments from returning.

Most of the unhoused she met on a strip of Western Boulevard recently were happy to move into temporary motel housing, one of the first strategies of Inside Safe.

“One was resistant ‘till the very end,” Bass told reporters in a zoom conference last month, noting his initial reluctance to an assessment from the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS). “But when he saw everybody on the block leave, he did too.”

The LA Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) completed its 2023 Unsheltered Count in February. Those results won’t be released until late spring or early summer. At last year’s count, 41,980 people were experiencing homelessness in the City of LA.

Bass explained that in the past, each city councilmember has had to fend for themselves and cope with any unhoused problems in their district. But the new mayor believes in building cooperative coalitions. By mid-February, more than 300 persons had been housed through the Inside Safe Initiative.

“Building a strong alliance with county, state and federal governments,” Bass said. “We have been aligning the different levels of government.”

In the past, the city has been in charge of building, while the county was in charge of services.

“We’re trying to work in sync,” Bass said, acknowledging that there have been some “bumps in the road,” but she has found that the red tape stalemates are self created and they can be unwound.

The director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness visited several encampment areas with Bass. The administration’s All In plan has set a goal to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025.

“If they came here, they could meet their national goal,” Bass said.

Bass would like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to “lighten up” on some of their regulations, noting that Health and Human Services only provides 30-day drug treatments.

“We need it to be 12 months, that’s what it used to be back in the day.” Bass said, noting that she wondered how any addict could get clean and on their feet in less time.

“I am making sure that the City of Los Angeles holds nothing back when it comes to bringing people inside and providing them with the support they need to stay inside for good,” Bass said. “To save lives, restore our neighborhoods and house Angelenos immediately, we must urgently prioritize underutilized existing city-owned property.”

Last week, Bass participated in the grand opening of Hope on Broadway, a newly built, four-story, permanent, supportive housing project with a total of 48 apartment units and healthcare services for chronically homeless individuals, many of whom had previously lived in those first strategy, temporary motel room spaces.

“A special shout-out to our mayor and our city attorney who are here with us and really symbolize the commitment that this city has toward projects like this,” said Ninth District Councilmember Curren Price before the ribbon-cutting. “We know that CD9 South LA has experienced its share of ups and downs, lots of downs, but we work tirelessly to pioneer growth in our community.”

“We know that the provision of social services is just as important as providing the housing and unless those two are linked, we’ve got some issues,” Price told the audience, noting that 2020 efforts to allocate over $25 million of TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act) and HHH funding brought that project into fruition. He also noted that there were about 11 projects in the Broadway corridor, planned to include more than 500 units of housing.

Price praised the mayor’ help in assisting the district in reaching its housing goals.

“Her efforts in pioneering this stream-lined approach, reducing the permit time—the current process is going to permit more Angelenos to find housing,” he said.

“We can’t thank Mayor Bass enough for making strides to really call attention to the problem that homelessness is — a public health problem that affects and impacts us all,” Price continued.

Heidi Feldstein Soto, the first-ever woman to be elected as city attorney in L.A. was also on hand to speak. The San Juan, Puerto Rico native spoke about the renewed spirit of cooperation in the city “rather than fiefdom and competition,” she said.

“I think our city is coming together to get things done. I hope to do my part.” Felstein Soto’s office is working to design a framework to expedite construction development and make sure ordinances, zoning rules and other pieces of the puzzle conform to every department’s standards.

“We can not arrest or settle our way out of homelessness,” Soto said. “We cannot litigate our way out of homelessness. We need to build. We need to empower and we need to keep going — hacia adelante y hacia arriba — onward and upward.”

“I cannot thank Mayor Karen Bass enough,” Soto said at the Hope on Broadway event. “For coming home to serve; for her leadership of our city; for her unwavering commitment to solve — not just move around, but solve our issues with homelessness.

“You bring hope,” Soto said, addressing the mayor. “Hope, not just to Broadway, but hope to all of L.A.”

Bass thanked Soto for her comments and reiterated that it is teamwork that is getting things moving.

“The call has to be for housing to be built everywhere in the city, not just in the ninth district,” Bass said. “We have to expedite the building. All of the projects that are stalled for one reason or another. They might be stalled because their waiting for a permit, or they might be stalled because of funding gaps.”

The mayor said her office has been looking for resources to close the funding gaps and working with the DWP and fire departments to work through any permit process holdups and fastrack projects.

“Because the whole city has to work together,” Bass said, noting the previous dysfunction between the mayor’s office, the councilmembers and the city attorney. “The finger-pointing has ended. We’re in alignment with the federal government, the state government, the county and the city. We definitely have met bumps in the road, but the point is the commitment is there, the dedication is there.”

Another phase of Inside Safe is community involvement at the grassroots level. Bass sees neighborhoods organizing and getting involved in the process.

“We want the neighbors to help contribute — towels, soaps, blankets” she said, noting community meetings and surveys are planned to determine what each area wants in regard to public safety. “We have to change the mentality in the city.”