End Street Homelessness

Read Rick Caruso’s detailed plan to house the homeless in LA and get people the care they deserve to get back on their feet.

Let’s get real about the reality of the homelessness crisis: the present system has failed the over 41,000 people living on the streets of LA City. Continuing to let thousands of Angelenos die on our streets each year is not progressive. We must scale proven solutions and bring everyone inside to address the increasing need for shelter and mental services. 

Over 5 years ago, Los Angeles voters were asked to raise taxes on themselves, giving politicians and bureaucrats the resources to tackle homelessness. Voters acted. Citizens did their part. Yet, the housing and services that were promised have not been delivered in an efficient way. Homeless counts have only increased. We need to innovate, put new leadership in charge and empower community members – both housed and unhoused – to change the current system that is failing us.

We need transparent and transformational action, innovation and collaboration. And we need it now.

Declare a Local State of Emergency

Let’s call the homelessness crisis what it is, an emergency that deserves a true FEMA-level response that comes with federal, state, and local coordination and funds to quickly house those who are living on our streets. No more wasting time allowing people experiencing homelessness to suffer while politicians and bureaucrats continue inadequate policies and solutions with limited results. We must come together and demand help from federal and state governments immediately. We must work with urgency to get people off the streets, into housing, and treated with proper services.

The CITY OF LA represents more than TWO-THIRDS (67%) of the homelessness crises across all of LA County. We know the crisis here in LA is worse than elsewhere, but the difference is staggering – and deserves a proportionate, FEMA-like response.

The CITY OF LA represents more than TWO-THIRDS (67%) of the homelessness population across all of LA County. We know the crisis here in LA is worse than elsewhere, but the gap is staggering – and deserves a proportionate, FEMA-like response.

The last homeless count for the City of LA placed the unhoused population at over 41,000 souls. That is the population of more than 92% of incorporated cities, towns and villages in the US.1 Imagine the population of an entire town being homeless and the Mayor and City Council NOT declaring an emergency. It’s unacceptable. But here in Los Angeles it is how we have been operating.

Declaring a State of Emergency will give us the ability to expedite decisions by creating a single point of accountability in the Mayor, while removing territorial City Council politics. We can’t solve this problem with 15 politicians tailoring our city’s homelessness response to the loudest special interests — we need a single point of accountability who answers only to the voters. Rick has the fortitude to tackle these problems and focus on them until the job is done. He won’t fixate on what office to run for next. Rick Caruso will End Street Homelessness in LA.

On Day One, Rick will:

  • Declare a State of Emergency. Declare a State of Emergency that won’t end until we have housing and supportive services for our homeless population. Rick will activate the Emergency Management Department and immediately utilize emergency powers, funds, and plans.
  • Demand State and Federal Response. Demand assistance from the Governor, State Legislature, and Federal government to provide emergency funding, interim housing, and case workers. Ensure we are helping our veterans, families and others who deserve mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.
  • Be Accountable to the voters. Prevent the City Council from continuing to balkanize the city’s homeless response into 15 districts. The current fragmented system has led to the micromanaging of decisions on sheltering homeless, building housing sites, and funding projects. We need centralized leadership. 
  • Elevate a Citywide Homelessness Coordinator.  Immediately, through Executive Order, create a Department of Homelessness and appoint a Citywide Homelessness Coordinator to manage all City efforts, including the Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Management Department, Housing Department, Sanitation Department, and other agencies. Immediately begin focusing all efforts on Ending Street Homelessness and getting people housed and supported with services.

Cut Waste and Demand Accountability

In 2016, at the urging of local elected officials, Angelenos voted to tax themselves and create more housing for the homeless. All told, Proposition HHH created upwards of $1.2 billion for housing projects with the promise of delivering 10,000 new units of housing. Now almost six years later there are only 18 projects completed for a total of 1,142 rooms1. And, on top of that, the average cost per unit is $700,000. We need to deliver housing with greater urgency and efficiency and demand results.

On Day One, Rick will:

  • Conduct a Waste Audit.  Hire independent expert consultants to work with City staff to complete a top to bottom audit of the Proposition HHH housing program. The audit will highlight wasted resources and recommend policies to prevent irresponsible spending of taxpayer funds.  
  • Cut Wasteful Projects. Utilize the remaining Proposition HHH funds to build housing that can be delivered efficiently. Impose a limit per unit cost of $350,000 or less and encourage modular housing, shipping containers, and other innovative and cost effective methods that can reduce timelines and provide housing. Partner with innovative private sector companies that are manufacturing ADU’s at prices 5-10 times more cost effective than current City efforts. 
  • Appoint Experts.  Make new appointments to the Proposition HHH Oversight Committee. Select and appoint new members with strong backgrounds in finance, construction, and auditing to ensure that all new projects are vetted for cost efficiency and expediency. 
  • Demand Accountability. Deliver real time reporting of homelessness and a strict accounting of every dollar spent – and results. Rick’s plan will be to deliver report cards at the neighborhood level, including goals, dollars spent, and outcomes.

Solve the Shortage of Interim Housing

According to the 2022 Homeless Count there are over 41,000 people experiencing homelessness. We urgently need interim housing for the health and safety of the housed and unhoused. With a Homeless Emergency declared, Rick will immediately deploy interim housing options across the city at the scale we need to house people and provide supportive services. The Mayor will have clear authority through the Emergency Declaration, overriding the current structure where 15 Councilmembers each have their own homeless plans.  

On Day One, Rick will:

  • Build 30,000 Interim Housing Interventions in 300 Days.   Rick will create an additional 30,000 interim housing interventions in the first 300 days. The City will allocate the necessary resources to house the homeless population, moving them off the street, out of encampments and into housing, service and treatment programs. Audits and studies have clearly shown that the City has access to hundreds of potential locations for interim housing on publicly and privately owned land. Rick is a builder and has the expertise to make progress at the pace LA needs from day one.
  • Coordinate Supportive Services. Hold LA County accountable as a partner to end street homelessness and ensure that all aspects of the plan for additional interim housing work seamlessly. We will hire 500 additional caseworkers and create additional services to address mental health, job training, permanent housing, and relocation to ensure no person is warehoused in interim housing. We will ensure that people are temporarily located in a safe, clean, and dignified environment with the care they need. We can all agree – an interim bed is more humane than sleeping on the street.
  • Restore our Parks and Public Spaces. Ensure the plan respects the safety of our schools, parks, and other sensitive areas. Interim housing will be in appropriate places with notice and outreach provided to the surrounding neighborhoods. When building new interim housing, Rick will maintain a commitment that each development will be safe and clean.
  • Equal Distribution of Interim Housing. All parts of the city will be called on and used for interim housing options. The only way to end street homelessness is through a unified and citywide effort. To that end, one part of the city will not be the central location for interim housing, we will ensure that interim housing is located and available citywide.
  • Recognize Homelessness as a Regional Issue:  We must partner with LA County to deliver interim housing options outside of city boundaries. People experiencing homelessness live everywhere from San Pedro to Palmdale, so every option must be on the table.

Address Mental Health and Addiction

In 2019 the LA Times found that more than 76% of the homeless population had substance abuse and/or mental illness issues. This was contrary to the 29% reported by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). The LA Times analysis affirmed that drugs and mental health issues are impacting our homeless population. Drug dealers and criminals are exploiting people experiencing homelessness as a disposable, and often powerless, customer base. We must intensify efforts to stop illicit drug manufacturing and dealing that deepens homelessness and exacerbates the mental health crisis. We must end the cycle by moving people into safe interim housing with urgency.

HEALTH and BEHAVIORAL HEALTH care needs, and experiences of abuse and trauma, are major factors in loss of housing among unsheltered people, most especially for unsheltered women. Unsheltered people were ….

  • … More than 4x as likely to report that physical health conditions had contributed to loss of housing as sheltered people (46% vs. 11%)
  • … Nearly 3x as likely to report mental health conditions had contributed to loss of housing (50% to 17%),
  • … and more than 8x as likely to report that use of drugs or alcohol had contributed to loss of housing (51% vs. 6%)
Chart credit: California Policy Lab

The  City of Los Angeles depends on LA County to provide public health and mental health services and we are competing with 87 other cities for the same resources. The City of LA is the largest population of LA County, and the largest contributor to property tax rolls, it’s time we created our own Public Health Department that provides healthcare, substance abuse treatment and mental health services for Angelenos. 

A LA Times survey from a few years ago found much more mental health suffering and substance abuse among the unsheltered. …“67% had either a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder. Individually, substance abuse affects 46% of those living on the streets — more than three times the rate previously reported — and mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, affects 51% of those living on the streets, according to the analysis.” Note, this was a few years ago, pre-pandemic. 

Credit: Los Angeles Times

As mayor, Rick will work with the State and County to Create New Tools:

  • Create a Public Health Department: Rick will work to establish a Public Health Department that provides healthcare, substance abuse treatment and mental health support to Angelenos. Rick won’t continue the current practice of waiting for the County to adequately serve those suffering on the street.
  • Hire Mental Health and Addiction Caseworkers. Hire and empower the largest mental health and addiction treatment workforce in the state. Rick’s goal will be to hire 500 additional Caseworkers on the streets to house people, and to provide medicine to those who need it.
  • Address Gaps in Providing Mental Healthcare: Work with Governor Newsom, and state representatives to establish CARE courts. 
  • Create a Mental Health Justice Center. Ensure that anyone who is compelled into treatment is treated fairly and evaluated in a timely manner so they can successfully rejoin society with job training, continued free mental health services, and addiction treatment.
  • Hire and Train Mental Health Workers to Respond to 911 Calls.  Hire mental health first responders to join our Police and Fire units on calls to ensure those with mental health issues are treated humanely and without unnecessary use of force. Operationalize 988 for mental health calls and first responder deployment through consistent staffing and dedicated resources. 
  • Fight Fentanyl and Opioid Abuse.  Deploy a large-scale and properly trained police effort to rid our streets of fentanyl and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. For too long we have let dealers and criminals harm our communities, creating a hospitable environment for drug dealing and manufacturing.

Remove Encampments With Housing & Restore Public Space

Encampments have become part of the LA landscape due to lack of coordination among the Mayor and City Council to build housing options and provide services. Neighborhoods are now crowded with inoperable RVs and growing numbers of tent communities. Human waste is commonplace in our wetlands, parks and beaches. Restrictions on sleeping in public areas are selectively enforced, compromising the safety of everyone and undermining the health and safety of our city.

Within 1 year of being mayor, Rick will:

  • Deploy 500 New Sanitation Workers to Clean the Streets. Hire 500 new sanitation workers to clean the streets and parks. After years of neglect, we need to prioritize cleaning our public space.
  • Offer Job Opportunities to People Experiencing Homelessness. Create a job training apprenticeship program with service providers, nonprofit organizations, and local labor and trade unions to train and employ those who want a job. We will empower those who want and need a job to make a living for themselves and their families.
  • Provide Alternatives to Encampments. Prevent future encampments through the provision of interim housing. Make LA a city where people are not forced to live on the street.

Pursue Creative and Cost Effective Solutions

The homelessness crisis is a result of structural failures, lack of housing and an inadequate safety net. The current set of tools we have just aren’t enough. That’s why Rick will demand creativity and efficiency in addressing this crisis. Rick will bring in new partners with fresh ideas, while leveraging the experience of the many good service providers who have not been properly resourced by the government. As a builder, Rick knows firsthand what it takes to listen to community members and be creative, compassionate, and relentlessly focused on results.  

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Increase Tiny Homes.  Increase efforts to build inexpensive cabin/tiny home communities at a fraction of the current cost. No more costly undergrounding of electrical or sewer lines unnecessarily. We will build them fast, cost-effective, and with dignity and humanity.
  • Convert Cityowned Property to Housing.  Immediately draft plans to convert every city-owned property either into affordable housing or interim housing. We’ll partner with the private sector to lower construction costs and create incentives to build housing faster and under budget.
  • Continue Project Homekey. Project Homekey builds upon Project Roomkey and permanently converts hotels to housing for those experiencing homelessness. This program has the potential to deliver fast housing solutions.
  • Acquire New Land for Housing. Utilize the City’s borrowing power to purchase land for permanent and interim housing. The City’s borrowing power is immense and should be fully leveraged to purchase land, create public private partnerships, and incentivize fast construction of housing. By eliminating the carrying costs for the private sector, we can broaden the pool of developers and spur new development.

Prevent People from Becoming Homeless

As we focus on housing and treating those who are homeless today, we need to also focus on preventing homelessness for those who are struggling in Los Angeles. There must be more options for those who are one or two missed paychecks away from losing their homes.

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Expand Emergency Rental Assistance.  Create emergency loans and rental assistance to prevent homelessness. Studies have shown that microloans are highly effective tools in combating homelessness and poverty and are far more cost-effective than other intervention programs. Providing low-cost or no-cost loans will stop families and individuals from falling into homelessness.
  • Deliver Tenant Rights. Create a new law that would prohibit evictions if a tenant makes a good faith rental payment. Cities like Oakland and D.C. have established this practice and could be looked towards as models. 
  • Establish an Early Notification System. Require DWP to notify the Homelessness Coordinator when water and power bills are not being paid on time, then deploy a mobile response to effectively intervene. Meet people where they are. 

Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis

Economic hardship is the #1 cause cited for newly homeless, and the housing affordability crisis in LA and across the state continues to worsen.   Housing costs in Los Angeles are sky high and growing exponentially. Studies show that homelessness starts rising when median rents in a region exceed 22% of median income and rises more sharply at 32%; in LA, the median rent is 46.7% of median income.

The reason for this is simple: building in Los Angeles isn’t just expensive, our current system incentivizes the building high-cost luxury housing over affordable housing. Los Angeles has one of the longest entitlement processes in the country, with most projects taking upwards of 24 months to receive building permits. This timeline creates high holding costs for builders and, when combined with fees, labor laws, and environmental review challenges, typical projects get delayed for years. This creates a system where only luxury housing is economically feasible to build. The solution is obvious: we must build more housing, of all types, in all neighborhoods, in a smart and community-appropriate way. Rick  will support neighborhood character and, he will advocate for more density and height in transportation corridors. 

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Leverage City’s Borrowing Power for Housing.  Work with department heads and the private sector to enable the use of the City’s borrowing power. The City will purchase and carry land costs for affordable housing projects over 100 units.
  • Waive Fees on Affordable Projects. Create an incentive program to eliminate all City fees for projects that provide 100% affordable housing with 55 year covenants.
  • Expand Housing with Services. Partner with service providers to create a new program to establish permanent supportive housing coupled with specific services offered, such as counseling PTSD, mental health and addiction services.
  •  Support Rapid Re-housing. Work with LA County to make sure that the city receives at least 40% of the rapid rehousing funds generated by Measure H.  
  • Eliminate Lawsuits Stopping Housing. Work with the City Attorney to strengthen environmental review of housing projects and long-range planning tools like Community Plans.  
  • Grow Section 8 Housing. Reduce or eliminate city fees for projects that agree to accept portable Section 8 vouchers for at least 55 years. Work with the federal government to increase the allocation of project based and portable Section 8 housing vouchers in Los Angeles and simultaneously create more incentives for landlords to accept them.

Recognize that Homelessness is a Regional Issue

Homelessness is not just a City of Los Angeles problem, but one that impacts all cities in the Southland. That is why we must work with other cities and jurisdictions to share the responsibility. Cities large and small must partner to create joint assistance programs that ignore invisible city boundaries.

As mayor, Rick will immediately:

  • Spearhead a Regional Task Force. Create a regional task force of neighboring cities to develop joint plans, collectively housing people, providing services, and sharing information on best practices, insights, and strategies.
  • Create a Joint Assistance Authority. Create a Joint Assistance Authority to immediately transfer resources and data across city lines without delay or red tape. Ensure that city limits don’t prevent much needed aid from reaching those who need it.
  • Expand Data Sharing.  Provide data sharing and intelligence sharing on drug trafficking trends, illicit substance manufacturing, and other criminal elements to ensure we stamp out the drug epidemic ravaging our unhoused and housed populations.

Los Angeles has been a magnet for lawyers looking to make a quick buck with costly lawsuits that City elected leadership settles rather than fights. We have seen this pattern with cases of Jones, Lavan and Mitchell to name a few. These lawsuits have cost millions of dollars and completely tied the city’s hands when trying to develop comprehensive solutions to homelessness.

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Utilize Veto Authority. Rick will use his veto authority when necessary to refuse damaging settlements brought forth by City elected leaders that further limit the City’s ability to house people and restore public space.
  •  Address Legal Barriers. Immediately retain expert constitutional lawyers to address previous settlements that do not benefit our city. Retain counsel to proactively evaluate current city regulations and practices to avoid future litigation. 

1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/241695/number-of-us-cities-towns-villages-by-population-size/

2 https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-07/homeless-population-mental-illness-disability

3 https://www.capolicylab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Health-Conditions-Among-Unsheltered-Adults-in-the-U.S.pdf

4 https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-07/homeless-population-mental-illness-disability

5 https://www.lahsa.org/documents?id=4558-2020-greater-los-angeles-homeless-count-presentation.pdf

6 https://www.lahsa.org/news?article=726-2020-greater-los-angeles-homeless-count-results

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