This has been a difficult summer for Angelenos. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten public health, unemployment in Los Angeles county has topped 20% multiple times, and now oppressive heat is shattering records in Southern California. Through all of this, however, many of the city’s most vulnerable residents are continuing to struggle without any sign of relief, due in large part to a complete failure to act from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Perhaps nowhere has this been more evident than in Mayor Garcetti’s handling of the city’s homelessness crisis. According to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count conducted earlier this year, Los Angeles County saw a staggering 12.7% increase in homelessness just in the past year, leaving 11,000 more people without homes than one year ago. Notably, the count was conducted in January, long before COVID-19 first struck the city and shut down local businesses. The situation has gotten so out of hand that Mayor Garcetti’s top adviser on addressing homelessness resigned in August.
Earlier this summer, Mayor Garcetti joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in implementing Project Roomkey, which laid out an ambitious plan to provide rooms for 15,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County. The aim was to simultaneously help protect the city’s homeless population from being devastated by the pandemic, while also aiding the struggling hospitality industry.
The results? Three months into the program, Project Roomkey had only secured about 3,600 rooms in Los Angeles, barely even a quarter of the program’s goals. The city’s implementation of Project Roomkey has also faced renewed criticism in recent weeks, as advocates sent a letter to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority claiming that disabled Angelenos have been explicitly prevented from taking part in the program. Things are not improving for those struggling with homelessness in Los Angeles; they are getting worse.
Unfortunately, Mayor Garcetti has ignored this troubling reality. In a tone-deaf interview on NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt,” Garcetti claimed he had “not a lot of regrets” over his handling of the pandemic, even going so far as to add, “I think we’ve probably done the best job of a vulnerable city protecting our people.” Whatever positive spin Mayor Garcetti tries to put on the situation simply ignores the harsh realities of life for homeless Angelenos.
In a sense, his abject failure to successfully implement Project Roomkey serves as a microcosm both of his handling of homelessness in Los Angeles and of his tenure as mayor more broadly. It’s no wonder there is a petition to recall Mayor Garcetti.
Take Mayor Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” program, for example. Designed to offer a temporary housing solution for the city’s homeless residents in order to provide a platform from which they can regain their footing and successfully transition to more permanent options, “A Bridge Home” has instead proven to be not much of a bridge at all. Rather, few have been able to secure permanent housing due to a lack of affordable options.
This is a sensitive time for the city of Los Angeles. The looming threat of the global pandemic presents a very real and serious danger for the city’s homeless population, but Mayor Garcetti has done little to solve either crisis. Instead, the city’s most vulnerable communities are struggling with little indication that things will get better soon. If there is anything that has been made clear by the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic and the city’s growing homelessness crisis, it is that Los Angeles both needs and deserves better leadership than Mayor Garcetti is willing or able to offer.
Joseph Laughon is a former journalist and political commentator.