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Mayor Bass taps hotel rooms, with estimated 40,000 people living homeless in Los Angeles

Karen Bass addresses steps to tackle homeless crisis at number of public appearances
Karen Bass addresses steps to tackle homeless crisis at number of public appearances 02:59

The new mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, said Sunday her administration will start moving homeless people from tent encampments into hotels and motels through a new program that launches Tuesday.

During an interview on "Meet the Press" Bass told the program's host, Chuck Todd, that her plan to move homeless people into rooms immediately will not "address everybody, but it is going to address, hopefully, a significant number." She said people will not be forced to move, but that sanitation crews will stand by to clean up areas after people have left.

"But this is not coercing people. This is not ticketing people or incarcerating people. This is moving people from tents to hotels or motels," she said.

On her first day as mayor of Los Angeles, Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness. She vowed to get people housed and more housing built so that residents can see a real difference, which hasn't been visible despite billions spent on programs to curb homelessness, including $1.2 billion in the current city budget.

Bass, a Democrat and former congresswoman, has said she intends to get over 17,000 homeless people into housing in her first year through a mix of interim and permanent facilities.

An estimated 40,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles, a city of nearly 4 million. Homelessness is hugely visible throughout California with people living in tents and cars and sleeping outdoors on sidewalks and under highway overpasses.

Bass said outreach workers will try to coax people indoors. People are homeless for a variety of reasons, including mental illness, addiction and job loss.

The mayor's office did not provide on Sunday details of the housing program, including what it would cost and where the money would come from.

She also made a number of public appearances on Sunday, wherever she stopped, making sure to call on Angelenos to remember those in need during the holidays of giving.

Bass first stopped at First AME Church, where she addressed a new plan to house the people living in the streets, hoping to put them in motel and hotel rooms while housing projects are constructed.

After that, she attended the Hanukkah Festival in the Pico-Robertson district, where she assisted in lighting the grand menorah to begin celebrations for the Festival of Lights. 

"As we come together for this holiday season, let's also not forget those people in our city that are suffering, living on the streets," she said at the festival. 

Organizers of the festival say that her tone is fitting for the message of Hanukkah, a time of gratitude and courage. 

"The menorah teaches us that one little candle can transform a world of darkness," said Rabbi Chaim Cunin with Chabad California. "All of us are praying, especially during this winter nights — this year seems to be colder than ever — that the warmth of the lights of the menorah and our city officials and private citizens are coming together and we'll find a solution."

While many are hopeful, just as many are being cautious in their optimism. 

"You said you have plans to fight homelessness, but what are your actual plans to do something about it?" asked Adam Richmond, a Los Angeles resident at the festival who confronted Bass during a news interview. 

She responded by first listening her emergency declaration, the executive order she signed on Friday to expedite the process for construction housing projects and her plans to announce Inside Safe on Tuesday, a program dedicated to getting the people living in tents into motel and hotel rooms. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom first launched the idea of placing homeless people in motel and hotel rooms at the start of the pandemic in 2020. He has since encouraged cities and counties to convert motels and other buildings into housing for homeless people.

Advocates for the homeless have welcomed the use of motel rooms, where people can have their own bathroom far away from the clutter of congregated shelters. But they have criticized what they call "sweeps" of encampments that force people to move and separate them from their belongings in the absence of a firm motel room offer.

Todd asked Bass how to judge her success on eliminating homelessness.

"Encampments should be significantly down if not eliminated, and there should be housing being built, underway, at a much more rapid pace," she said. "And there should not be 40,000 people who are unhoused, that's for sure."

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