Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino proposed eliminating the county’s homelessness agency and banning encampments on beaches, parks and public sidewalks during a mayoral campaign speech early Monday morning, June 7, in Venice.
The proposals are part of his “Plan for a Safer Los Angeles,” which Buscaino revealed during a 10-minute talk on the Venice boardwalk, which ended in chaos when a woman wielding a knife was arrested by LAPD. Buscaino, who is running to succeed outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti next year, also called for more housing to be built more quickly, and said law enforcement has a role in the homeless crisis.
“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,” he said of recent practices dealing with a growing homeless population in the city and county of Los Angeles. “We will never stop homelessness if we only focus on rehousing those on the street.”
Buscaino represents The City Council’s 15th District, which runs from Watts to San Pedro. The former LAPD officer has often tried to balance a compassionate response toward those who are homeless with initiatives that appeal to property owners, such as regular cleanups of encampments — which have regularly drawn the ire of activists.
The mayoral candidate touched on that middle ground as he unveiled his Plan for a Safer Los Angeles in front of about 100 people, a crowd that included both supporters — some of whom held signs that read “Save us Joe” and “Beaches and Parks are Sacred” — homeless advocates who have been critical of Buscaino.
“Allowing unregulated and spiraling encampments in Los Angeles is not compassionate,” he said, “it’s reckless.”
Buscaino is actively lobbying his council colleagues to support his Plan for a Safer Los Angeles, a representative with his office said.
The plan provided broad-stroke outlines for helping solve the homeless crisis, rather than specifics. But perhaps the biggest proposal was eliminating the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA. There are better ways to spend the $330 million the city annually sends to the county for homeless initiatives, Buscaino said.
“Our system was adequate three decades ago when it was first formed,” Buscaino said, “but today there are better ways to spend the $300 million we invest annually in this bloated bureaucracy we call LAHSA.
“LAHSA has failed us.”
A LAHSA representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Buscaino also said law enforcement has a role to play in the homeless crisis, particularly if those living on the streets refuse housing.
“We must engage every measure available to get people off the street,” Buscaino said, “and if that means using law enforcement, I support that.”
And housing must be constructed more quickly and efficiently, he added.
“Street encampments are unsafe and unhealthy and, quite simply, inhumane,” Buscaino said. “We must immediately build a sufficient amount of low-barrier, temporary housing for anyone who would otherwise face a night sleeping on concrete.
“We need less red tape,” he added, “for those who are actually making housing available.”
Buscaino said the city continues to fall behind in finding solutions to the issue.
“Last year, for every 207 people housed, 227 fell into homelessness,” he said. “We’ve got to break the cycle of poverty, get addiction treatment and mental health services to our veterans who deserve it and we must provide job training and child care and targeted rental assistance for those about to lose their homes.”
Any person asking for help, he said, needs to be responded to.
“No more surveys, no more waiting lists and no more LAHSA,” Buscaino said.
He also proposed a “senior outreach worker” program — similar to LAPD’s senior lead officer framework — that will make use of mobile technology and more quickly get people off the streets. Those workers will be evaluated and compensated based on how many people they get off the street and housed, he added.
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“We all know based on what we’re seeing on every corner in the city of Los Angeles that homelessness makes our city less safe for everyone,” Buscaino said, “for our fellow Angelenos who are experiencing homelessness, for women, for seniors and for youth, for children and families who just want to be able to use the park in their neighborhood.”
Buscaino contrasted Santa Monica — just north of Venice and an independent city where encampments are not seen — and Venice, part of the city of L.A., where residents have long been frustrated over encampments that now legally take up sections of the beach and boardwalk.
“Behind me is the city of Santa Monica and common sense,” Buscaino said. “In front of me, in Venice, is nonsense.”
Garcetti’s term ends next year and the 2022 election is expected to bring out multiple candidates for mayor. Besides Buscaino, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feurer has also announced a campaign for the mayor’s seat.