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Congresswoman Karen Bass wants to end L.A. homelessness for good

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Congresswoman Karen Bass wants to end L.A. homelessness for good
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US Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass is a frontrunner in the tight Los Angeles mayoral race, and she promises to solve the “metastisizing” unhoused crisis in the city of Angels.

The extraordinary challenge facing L.A. was what prompted Bass not to seek re-election in Congress, she told the Guardian last week. “It is the number one reason why I decided to come back and run for mayor … It has gotten completely out of hand.”

Karen Bass leads with bold plans.

Bass made bold commitments: if elected, she would “end all street encampments.”

Bass would provide housing to 15,000 unhoused people by the end of year one; rapidly get people off the street; convert empty properties into shelter; and build more permanent supportive housing. While Bass’ plans are indeed bold, her opponents contend the details are few and far in between.

Critics cite the lack of detail in Karen Bass’ plan as an indicator of things not to come.

According to the Guardian, Bass’s proposals have been closely scrutinized, with skeptics questioning how she will succeed in finding housing for tens of thousands of people or clearing tent communities without violating unhoused people’s rights.

Other critics have argued her plan didn’t offer substantially new solutions. Some experts have criticized her focus on expanding temporary shelter and questioned whether that approach can get people indoors en masse – and keep them off the streets.

Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, advocates for the unhoused. He supports Bass’s push for more efficient ways to build permanent housing on government land but also wanted to see more of a plan from Bass to achieve the goal.

White stated, “Unfortunately, Candidate Bass and pretty much all the other candidates are producing plans that we’ve seen and heard before in Los Angeles.”

Is Karen Bass the woman for the job?

Bass’s “metastasizing” diagnosis of the city builds on her early career as an emergency room physician assistant in an LA county hospital, where she treated unhoused people.

In 1990, she founded the Community Coalition, a South LA non-profit organization focused on substance abuse and violence prevention. At that time, she argued addiction was a public health crisis while other Democrats pushed for criminalization.

Now, more than 41,000 people are unhoused in the city, and nearly four unhoused people die every day. LA county is home to 40% of all unhoused people in California, and 20% of all unhoused people living outside in the US, as of 2020.

“If you have an earthquake… you go into action,” says Bass.

“The number one thing I would do differently is treat this like a natural disaster,” Bass said. “ … And you don’t let bureaucracy stand in your way, because you understand that people are dying.”

Bass details her plan amid criticism of ‘no plans’

Bass’s “emergency” response includes appointing a homelessness chief to create a better partnership between the city (which is responsible for housing) and the LA county government (which oversees social services).

She has also pledged to prevent homelessness by promoting rental assistance and direct cash assistance: “I believe very strongly in assistance for landlords, it’s not enough just to assist the tenants,” she said.

To get people off the streets, Bass said she would create more temporary housing on city-owned sites and in vacant properties.

Bass said she supported the concept of “housing first”, but also argued that interim programs were necessary: “Ending street encampments comes with adequate, safe and secure temporary housing.” She said she avoids the word “shelter”, because often “that is where plans end.”

She added she would improve the process for housing vouchers that subsidize low-income rent, so that people who have received the vouchers can actually get rentals.

While the unhoused problem in L.A. has existed for years, it’s been exacerbated since the pandemic began and if Karen Bass’ best-laid plans come to fruition, supporters and skeptics alike will owe her a debt of gratitude.

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