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Los Angeles County declares state of emergency over homeless crisis

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Officials in Los Angeles County Tuesday approved a motion to declare a state of emergency over the region's homeless crisis. The declaration, officials say, will expedite supportive and material services for people who are unhoused. 

The emergency declaration, introduced in late December, and was formally green-lit by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in a unanimous vote Tuesday. It came just about one month after a similar, citywide emergency declaration was enacted by new L.A. Mayor Karen Bass immediately after taking office. Leaders in the nearby city of Long Beach have drafted their own proposal to address homelessness there.

L.A. County supervisors Kathryn Barger and Lindsey Horvath co-authored the motion that the board heard at their latest meeting, and passed it with some modifications. Their proposal mainly called for an emergency proclamation that would allow L.A. County to hire additional staff in roles focused on addressing the area's homeless crisis, and providing direct services — including mental and physical health, substance use and case management services — to unhoused people in the area.

US Homeless Count
A homeless man stands next to his tent in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. Jae C. Hong / AP

"This declaration will usher in a renewed sense of urgency, leading with transparency, creating the tools required to combat this humanitarian crisis," said Horvath in a tweet shared after the vote on Tuesday. In a separate post, Barger noted, "It will help us cut through red tape, accelerate our hiring of mental health professionals & streamline contracting services."

The declaration intends to speed up timelines for various logistical procedures required to establish contracts between homeless services providers and the county. This would ideally mean that resources and services are given to people experiencing homelessness more quickly in the future than they are right now. Currently, the bidding and selection processes that precedes a finalized contract between L.A. County and a single services provider can take up to one year, Cheri Todoroff, executive director of the L.A. County Homeless Initiative, told the Los Angeles Times.

L.A. County's Homeless Initiative, created in 2015, outlined a comprehensive 10-year plan to address homelessness. It is funded through Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2017. The sales tax generates about $355 million annually, according to the county

Although officials estimate that about 85,000 people have been housed because of these programs, the county's overall homeless population has continued to steadily climb over the past six years.

An annual homeless count, conducted last February, found that more than 69,100 people were homeless in the greater Los Angeles area. Local officials agree that number is likely lower than the true number of people who are unhoused. 

As Barger and Horvath pointed out in their motion, the 2022 homeless count showed a 55% increase in the homeless population from a count conducted in January 2015, before the Homeless Initiative or Measure H were implemented. The 2022 count also revealed that roughly 70% of people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County — or more than 48,000 people — were unsheltered and living in cars or outside. That number is the highest of any county in the U.S., and the percentage has remained virtually unchanged for a majority of the past decade.

US Homeless Count
A homeless man stands next to his tent in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. Jae C. Hong / AP

"For every 207 people who exited homelessness throughout L.A. County every day in 2020, about 227 people fell into homelessness during the same period, according to the Homeless Count results for that year," according to a statement on the L.A. County Homeless Initiative's website. 

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