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At Their First Meeting, Two New Faces On LA’s City Council Target The Homelessness Crisis

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Los Angeles City Councilmembers from even-numbered districts take the oath of office on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Top row, L-R: John Lee, Nithya Raman, Mark Ridley-Thomas; middle, L-R: Paul Krekorian, Kevin De León, Gil Cedillo; bottom, L-R: Nury Martinez
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The two newest members of the Los Angeles City Council have taken dramatically different paths to the job, but their first council meeting on Tuesday made it clear they share a common goal: shaking up L.A.’s response to the homelessness crisis.

Mark Ridley-Thomas and Nithya Raman each put forward two motions:

In one, Raman requested city analysts report back on the structure of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s outreach programs, with the goal of overhauling how L.A. connects with people experiencing homelessness. (Council President Nury Martinez seconded the motion.)

Raman's motion read, in part: “[T]hose in urgent need of services often don’t have an obvious place to turn for help, and have trouble finding the assistance they need to navigate the byzantine processes to achieve shelter, housing, and medical treatment.”

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Raman wants to see a comparison of funding levels for proactive vs. reactive engagement efforts.

The majority of city-funded outreach examined in a 2019 City Controller Audit was related to encampment cleanups, during which LAPD officers assist sanitation workers. The process is “reactive” in that it usually starts with a member of the public or elected official complaining to the city.

Raman aims to shift the city to a “proactive” model of consistent, predictable outreach where caseworkers can build relationships with homeless people in specific geographic areas. She says it’s a more effective way to connect people with services and ultimately get them into housing.

In another motion, Raman directed the City Administrative Officer and other related agencies to identify funding and possible sites for a homeless services Navigation Center in her 4th Council District.

Ridley-Thomas took a step toward establishing housing as a human right in the city of L.A. He introduced a motion instructing city analysts to come up with a plan to create a “Right To Housing” legal framework that would obligate the city to act on homelessness — or else.

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It echoes previous work by Ridley-Thomas. The former County Supervisor co-chaired a statewide advisory group on homelessness that put together a 40-point plan released early this year. It included a recommendation for a “legally enforceable mandate” that would mean local governments could face lawsuits if they fail to house people.

The road map “put forward the idea of an enforceable obligation for government to provide a right to housing within the shortest feasible timeframe,” the city motion says.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas also ordered up a status report on city initiatives in line with the statewide road map.

A second Ridley-Thomas motion was a resolution to support a state Assembly Bill, AB 71, which proposes an increase in the income tax rate for those making more than $1 million a year. The goal is to create a $2.4 billion statewide fund to address homelessness.

This was the final city council meeting of the year before the winter recess. The motions will be taken up by council committees when business resumes in January.

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Also on Tuesday, Martinez was re-elected to a second term as Council President and Councilmember Joe Buscaino was re-elected as President Pro-Tempore.