This past week, the Hollywood Chamber had meetings with two of our L.A. City Councilmembers – first with Curren Price who chairs the City’s Economic Development Committee, and then our board met with newly-elected 4th District Councilmember David Ryu.
In both meetings, the issue which quickly rose to the top was the rapidly escalating number of homeless encampments throughout Hollywood. I can tell you that people are alarmed at what is happening on public sidewalks, along the freeway and even on private property. Your Chamber has been active in lobbying for action, through meetings as well as letters to our public officials.
A recent count by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) found that the number of encampments on Hollywood streets has jumped by 54 percent to 184 since the last count in 2013. Countywide, LAHSA found that there was an 84 percent increase.
Who are these newly homeless in Hollywood? The Hollywood Entertainment District Security Patrols has surveyed many of the newly-arrived homeless and found that most of them are not from the Los Angeles area. A large number are from out of state and drawn to Hollywood. The majority are young. Even if the City offered them housing, they would decline. They just want to hang out. For further information on this, read a column by Hollywood Property Owners Executive Director Kerry Morrison:http://onlyinhollywood.org/new-faces-contributing-to-increase-in-homelessness-in-hollywood/
Many of them are also on drugs and alcohol and there is an increasing incidence of mental illness and violent behavior. When I was walking to a meeting last week, one of them appealed to me for a contribution so he could do “alcohol research”. At least he was honest!
Hollywood has done a lot to assist our homeless population. There is a consensus here that we need to treat legitimately homeless individuals humanely. Since 2010, the Hollywood 4WRD Coalition has found housing for 440 of those on our streets. The goal has been to find permanent supportive housing for all of our local homeless. That goal has been blown out of the water with the current situation. I have been in Hollywood for 23 years, and have never seen it so bad.
What does the current crisis mean for Hollywood? It means that residents do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods. It means that employees are afraid to walk to their cars after work. Developers of multi-million dollar office buildings are concerned that businesses won’t want to locate in Hollywood when they see the encampments outside their doors. This is a quality of life issue that impacts everyone.
Do we see these same problems in nearby cities such as West Hollywood, Burbank, Pasadena or Glendale? The answer is “no”. The usual explanation that we receive is that Los Angeles is so large that it is the prime target of lawsuits challenging homeless enforcement, and so the City’s hands are tied.
I recognize that is indeed a problem, but we are looking to our elected officials for leadership, not explanations. This week the Los Angeles City Council is poised to declare a “State of Emergency” and to earmark $100-million for solutions. This is a good first step.
However, beyond that, a plan of action is needed. First, the City needs to differentiate between those who are truly homeless and in need of humane treatment, and those who want to “hang out” and choose a lifestyle of living on the sidewalks and moving from city to city. Separate approaches need to be crafted for both populations. The County and State need to be brought into the dialogue. If legislation is needed in Sacramento to address the challenges imposed by the courts, then now is the time to be speaking to our legislators – when they are beginning to put together their legislative priorities for 2016. The City should be researching what other cities faced with similar issues have done.
The time for inaction is over. We don’t want to accept this increase in people living on our streets as a new normal. We will be watching how our elected officials lead on this issue!
Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.