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Petition Calls for Skid Row Solutions

USC and UCLA professors are among the scholars who outline plans to provide lodging and financial support for the homeless.

By Eddie North-Hager
January 30, 2007

Petition Calls for Skid Row Solutions

More than 50 professors from universities, colleges and agencies throughout the Los Angeles region have signed a petition demanding that city and county officials do more to solve the homeless problem than arrest indigents and provide emergency beds.

The petition by the Inter-University Consortium Against Homelessness that will be released today also calls for smaller cities in the region to take responsibility for their homeless and stop dumping them on Skid Row.

Los Angeles has the biggest homeless population of any U.S. city and spends proportionally less on the problem than New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle, according to Michael Dear, one of the consortium’s founders and a USC professor. There are more than 90,000 homeless people countywide and current policies will not end homelessness, he said.

“Our goals must aim to stop the manufacture of homelessness; close off the flow of homeless people to the streets of Skid Row; and assist those already homeless to get off the streets permanently,” the petition states.

Dear, geography professor at the USC College, and Jennifer Wolch, director of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities at the College, teamed with UCLA law professor Gary Blasi; Paul Tepper, director of the Weingart Development Corp., Dan Flaming of the Economic Roundtable and RAND’s Paul Koegel to create a plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, according to the petition, needs to take five steps to solve the homeless problem:

• Help homeless people by giving them a share of public-sector jobs, such as tree planting or highway construction. The program could be paid for with some of the infrastructure bond money approved in November;

• Ensure that public assistance is enough to pay for lodging. General relief, the last-resort L.A. County program for unemployed and disabled people, amounts to $221 a month – the same as it was 25 years ago. Many county dollars could be saved if agencies helped the homeless obtain the federal Social Security benefits and veterans’ disability payments to which they are entitled;

• Provide affordable housing and services for the homeless, not just emergency shelters. This would be a bargain compared with the cost of putting people in jails, hospitals and shelters. In Los Angeles, a night in supportive housing costs about $30, compared to $37 in a shelter, $64 in jail, $85 in prison, $607 in a mental hospital and $1,474 in a general hospital;

• Stop the flow of homeless people into Skid Row. Other cities must scrap zoning restrictions that allow some neighborhoods to keep out low-income housing and essential public services. Support laws that would require cities to include emergency shelters and special-needs facilities in their general plans;

• Spend the political capital necessary to end homelessness. Long-established divisions of political authority cannot be used as an excuse for inaction.

Until these actions are undertaken, the petition states, the existing supply of shelter beds in Skid Row must be preserved and maintained.

In 2005, the city of Los Angeles spent less than $1 per capita to address homelessness (compared to $3 in Chicago, $8 in Boston and $13 in Seattle). In L.A. County overall, local jurisdictions using local, state and federal funds as well as private sources spend about $600 million annually. The annual cost of sheltering and sustaining every homeless person in Los Angeles County could be approximately $1.5 billion.

New York City spends $1.7 billion each year on services and housing for its much smaller homeless population. The rapid construction of affordable and supportive housing there has reduced the homeless population to such an extent that the city’s largest shelter, with 1,000 beds, will be closed in June.

“We can afford to end homelessness,” Dear said.