Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva again questioned the approach of government officials tackling the region’s homelessness crisis Wednesday, alleging that building new housing units for the homeless only encourages more transients to move here from other parts of the country.
Villanueva instead called for building shelter space, safe camping and RV parking space, and permanent supportive housing for the mentally ill and gravely disabled.
“That’s it — nobody else,” he said. “For every house you build, all you’re telling someone else from another state is ‘Hey, come to California, get in line, you too can get your permanent housing.”‘
The region’s homelessness agency disputed the sheriff’s contentions.
“The crisis we see on our streets is directly attributed to the high cost of living, lack of affordable housing and failed safety net systems that are perpetuated by systemic racism,” said Heidi Marston, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “While we are housing more people than ever before — 65,000 over the last three years — we must build affordable housing at scale and ramp up mental and physical health support for our unhoused neighbors.”
In its 2020 Homeless Count, LAHSA officials said 59% of newly homeless individuals cited economic hardship as the main cause for their homelessness, and 80% of unsheltered individuals had lived in the county for more than five years.
According to LAHSA, the California Housing Partnership recently determined Los Angeles County needs nearly 500,000 affordable homes to meet the need of residents.
Villanueva — who has repeatedly criticized policies for addressing the homelessness crisis — bemoaned the fact that proposals from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the county Board of Supervisors amounted to “Let’s build more permanent housing.”
“Affordable housing for the working-class poor? Yes, cause they’re working their tails off to put that roof over their head, put food on the table, yes,” Villanueva said. “But we have to do something that I don’t think anyone’s even spoke about yet. We have to demand something from the homeless. … We have to demand agency. Which means you have to get out, put down the crack pipe, stop smoking dope 24/7. Take charge of your life. Have a plan, do something about it. And if you need help, reach for it, and we’ll provide that help. … What we can’t do — if you’re an able-bodied, willing adult who does not want to work and just wants to live the nomadic lifestyle and be a drifter … L.A. is not for you, and will never be for you. That is my promise.”
The sheriff also provided a minor update on rising crime rates in the county, reporting that homicides are up 70% from last December, when the number was up 36% from the year before. Aggravated assaults with firearms and unlawful shootings were up 47% from last year, he added.