L.A. needs to reexamine policies on homelessness

With some of the richest celebrities in the world — and thousands of people on the streets — Los Angeles is the definition of an economically divided city.

To combat the city’s reputation as the homeless capital of America, L.A. residents such as Elvis Summers recently launched the Tiny House Project, building small houses equipped with locks and solar-powered lights, and donating them to prevent people from sleeping outside.

However, the city has not responded well to the placement of these houses — with sites like 110 Freeway underpasses — and has confiscated them, citing them as health hazards and nuisances to local residents.

Ironically, last month L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his plan to curb homelessness in L.A. by investing $1.85 billion over the next decade and an additional $150 million over the next two years.

Instead of evicting people from the tiny houses, the city of L.A. needs to team up with innovators like Summers and work on building new communities for homeless people. It should work to provide more public-private partnerships to provide immediate care to the homeless.

L.A. should follow in Portland’s footsteps with the nonprofit Dignity Village, which has expanded micro-communities for the chronically homeless on city-owned property for the past 15 years.

The city should initiate efforts to relocate the tiny houses in permitted areas to alleviate tensions with local residents. To address sanitation concerns, the city government should move these homes next to facilities with basic plumbing or bring in portable toilets and washing stations.

Small compartment homes give the homeless an opportunity to find comfort in their own individual safe place. Many homeless shelters are overcrowded, and people come and go without being given proper mental health care or rehabilitation treatment. Evicting people from their tiny homes forces them back on the streets — which is surely not safer than living behind a locked door.

In the past, Garcetti has given hollow promises about helping the homeless. In fact, since Garcetti’s first day in office three years ago, the homeless population has increased by 12 percent. The city already spends approximately $100 million to deal with homeless people, but much of the funds go toward law enforcement to police the population. The city criminalizes the homeless and confiscates what little property they have instead of helping them.

However, homeless people have apparently become a big enough eyesore to cause people to complain to Garcetti to initiate some change in his policies toward the homeless population.

Garcetti’s new agenda includes building and leasing long-term housing for the homeless with direct access to social services. After his top advisor left earlier this week, he also plans to appoint a city homelessness coordinator and create more public restrooms and showers.

However, Garcetti’s agenda points to a questionable allocation of funds. In a city homelessness report, city officials stated funding may be acquired through federal and state grants, fees on real estate transactions and bond or tax hikes. However, there has been no real confirmation of how additional funding will play out for the $2 billion within the next 10 years. Ultimately, the plan will cost a significant amount of money and take extensive time to conduct research and development.

In the meantime, provisional solutions should be made, especially with public-private partnerships, which have more flexible fundraising strategies as with the creation of philanthropic enterprises.

Summers crowdfunded nearly $100,000 in donations to build houses, and with the help of the city in a public-private partnership, a transparent and direct plan of action can be taken to address homelessness in L.A.