Rep. Maxine Waters returned home to Los Angeles on Wednesday to draw attention to the plight of 60,000 homeless county residents.
“According to the latest point-in-time count, both the city and county of Los Angeles experienced a 12 to 16 percent increase from last year in the number of people that are homeless,” Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, said in her opening remarks of a hearing held in her district. Waters noted that “nearly 60,000 people in the county,” and over 35,000 in the city, were homeless on any given night.
In April, Waters introduced legislation that would provide $13 billion in federal funding over five years for initiatives designed to end homelessness in the U.S. that includes money for the construction of affordable housing units. On Wednesday, she cited high housing costs in Los Angeles as contributing to the problem there.
“We cannot ignore that our homelessness crisis is directly linked to the affordable housing crisis. Too many people cannot afford to keep a roof over their head as wages have not kept pace with rising rents,” Waters said. “Los Angeles has one of the least affordable housing markets in the United States. In L.A. County, a renter earning the minimum wage of $13.25 an hour would need to work 79 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, which was titled “Examining the Homelessness Crisis in Los Angeles,” experts from state and local governments and from nonprofits specializing in housing and homelessness largely confirmed Waters’s assessment of the causes for the spike in homelessness in Los Angeles.
“People live on the street because we don’t have enough indoor places for them to be,” said Christina Miller, deputy mayor for city homeless initiatives in Los Angeles.
In a July interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, President Trump blamed “the liberal establishment” for the homelessness problem.
“The people living there are living in hell. Some of them have mental problems where they don’t even know they are living that way,” Trump said. “In fact, perhaps they like living that way. They can’t do that. We can’t ruin our cities.
“You have people that work in those cities, they work in office buildings,” Trump added. “To get into the building they have to walk through a scene that nobody would have believed possible.”
The Trump administration has not proposed any new solutions to address homelessness, and has sought to strip funding form the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a move that some experts predict could worsen the crisis.
Testifying Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti acknowledged the challenge of reducing homelessness.
“We have to extinguish the belief, get rid of the fantasy that there is some magic formula that within a few weeks or months this will disappear. That we can shoo people off to this place over in the desert or on a beach, create a massive tent and just move them away. That’s not how it’s done.”
At the same time, Garcetti said his city’s efforts to confront the problem have been showing signs of paying off, noting that, thanks to outreach efforts, in 2018 more than 48,000 people moved out of homelessness there. Over the same period, however, 54,000 people slid into homelessness due to economic instability.
“So when we see an increase, it’s not that the success isn’t working, it’s that we don’t the scale and we’re not preventing it from happening in the first place,” Garcetti said.
For those reasons, Garcetti said he enthusiastically supports Waters’s $13 billion bill.
Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing also noted that homelessness disproportionately affects African-Americans. Thirty-five percent of the homeless population in Los Angeles is African-American, although blacks make up just 8 percent of the city’s total population.
High housing costs have placed many more residents at risk of homelessness, with more than one-third of renters in Los Angeles paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing.
Calling homelessness an “unnatural disaster,” Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, linked the problem to substance abuse, mental health and sky-high rents. “This is bigger than any one single crisis,” Green said.
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