Homelessness is a significant issue among California voters leading up to the March primary election, according to a poll USC released at a Thursday event hosted by USC Schwarzenegger Institute and the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation. A panel of past and present government officials also spoke on the state of homelessness in California at Town and Gown during the event.
More than 150 students attended “Unhoused: Addressing Homelessness in California,” which included input from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson regarding potential solutions to homelessness and public perceptions of the housing crisis in California.
According to poll results, more than a quarter of voters know individuals who have personally experienced homelessness and felt the need for a combination of stricter restrictions and compassionate policies.
“There are lots of people in the state who are impacted by homelessness … or are afraid that they could become homeless themselves,” Academic Director of the Schwarzenegger Institute Christian Grose said. “There’s a lot of inconsistency in attitudes about policies where people favor some sort of restrictive policies and others favor much more compassionate policies.”
Downtown Women’s Center CEO Amy Turk began the event by emphasizing the crisis of homelessness affecting 18,000 women across Los Angeles County along with seniors, LGBTQ people and people of color. She urged those in attendance who hold powerful positions to brainstorm solutions to address affordable housing.
“Women have told us what they need in terms of housing, community resources and healthcare,” Turk said. “It’s now on us, who hold privileged positions within government, academia and advocacy to align funding, legislation and further research to those needs.”
After Turk’s opening, Urban Voices Project — a community that helps those who have experienced homelessness cope through music — danced down the aisle, energizing the crowd by singing “Walk with Me.” The group shared musical numbers with the audience that many of the members related to, including Marilyn Irizarry, who experienced homelessness for decades in part due to health issues including breast cancer.
Price School of Public Policy Dean Jack Knott compared the dramatic disparities of living costs and low income wages in L.A. with other states, including Texas, Ohio and Arkansas.
“The combination of [low income and high housing costs] means that we are the most expensive and unaffordable city in the country,” Knott said.
Former California Gov. Gray Davis said homelessness in L.A. is in a state of emergency and that the issue should have the same priority as L.A. sports stadiums have had in the past. Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers, was able to override environmental reviews in 2010.
“You can’t tell me that it’s more important to build a stadium than it is to house and treat the least among us — the homeless,” Davis said.
Schwarzenegger called California “the most beautiful place in the country” and a “golden dream,” acknowledging how California encourages people to visit the state. However, he said the state has left the homeless community behind.
“There are over 150,000 people in our state that are considered homeless,” he said. “For them, the golden dream is out of reach and that is unacceptable … Almost 40% of the people are afraid that they or someone in their family will become homeless. These numbers are staggering. [Homelessness] is a crisis. We can do better, and we must do better.”
Carson highlighted programs that HUD has implemented to address housing insecurity in the United States, including awarding more than $2 billion to support local homelessness assistance programs such as local churches. Carson also said liberals and conservatives need to work together to solve the crisis.
Katie Ross, a junior majoring in public policy, said she enjoyed the bipartisan nature of the event.
“There were a lot of people from Democratic sides as well as Republican ideologies,” Ross said. “I thought it was a really interesting way of bringing everyone together on social issues, especially homelessness that’s affecting a lot of California.”
Garcetti also looked back on the state’s past of abundant jobs and affordable housing and called the state of homelessness in California a “double heartbreak.” He hopes the situation will improve in the near future.
“I hope to have that conversation one day of saying, ‘Now nobody has the right to be on a sidewalk,’” Garcetti said. “[To say that] today, you will get a [housing] voucher regardless of your immigration status, regardless of your age, regardless of whether you’ve served time.”