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Economy & Business

LA Dedicates $1 Billion To Fight Homelessness

NOEL KING, HOST:

Los Angeles plans to spend almost a billion dollars over the next fiscal year to fight homelessness. At least 41,000 people live on the streets and in shelters there. Here's LA's Mayor Eric Garcetti talking about his spending plan in a speech last night.

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ERIC GARCETTI: Ending homelessness is tough, tough work. It's not for the faint of heart. But our investments are building a movement and building our capacity to improve the lives of our unhoused neighbors.

KING: Reporter Anna Scott covers housing and homelessness for member station KCRW. She's with us now. Good morning, Anna.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Where is almost a billion dollars going to come from?

SCOTT: Yeah, it's a lot of money, especially for Los Angeles. Although it is worth noting, it's still less than half of what New York City spends on homelessness in a year, for perspective. But it's huge by LA standards. We're talking about $950 million dollars going in, and it's going to come mainly through the city budget, which comes out in full today, and from state and federal COVID relief dollars. And there's also still hundreds of millions of more from the state that LA is likely to get in the coming year for homelessness, but it hasn't come through yet. So in the end, it's likely the city will spend upwards of a billion dollars on homelessness by next summer. But right now we're talking about $950 million.

KING: OK, some from the state, some from COVID relief efforts. And then how will LA spend that money?

SCOTT: A lot of it is going to affordable housing, which is very key. Experts draw a direct line between the lack of affordable housing in this region and the number of homeless people in the city. So the biggest piece of the pie, about $350 million, is going to help fund new apartments for people who are formerly homeless, with subsidized rents and social services. That is from a bond measure that city voters actually passed a few years ago to pay for these kinds of apartments. That's been very slow going, but Garcetti says it's going to pick up steam now. Money is also going to go to street cleanups, to temporary shelters, to homelessness prevention programs - things like that.

KING: If a lot of this money is coming from COVID relief efforts - that's going to end at some point relatively soon - how does the city plan to keep going when that money isn't there anymore?

SCOTT: Well, they don't have a concrete plan for that that they've made public. Now, the mayor's office says that they see this coming year as an opportunity to set a model, to expand programs, to get new ones up and running. And the hope is that once they prove what they can do at this level of funding, then that creates pressure to maintain what they're doing, which could hopefully lead to ongoing support. But absolutely, there's a danger that what they do in this next year isn't sustainable.

KING: And the proof part will be interesting because LA has spent billions of dollars on homelessness over the last few decades, and then we've talked to you time and again about how it just keeps getting worse. Why is that?

SCOTT: Yeah. Well, you know, it's not just an issue of money; it's also about spending it well. I've talked to many homeless advocates who have been in this world for decades who argue that city officials misspending, even wasting, resources that they do have over the years is a big part of what has gotten LA to this point, with more than 40,000 people homeless on its streets. Now, it's also true that LA, like other cities around the country, depends a lot when it comes to homelessness on resources from the county, from the state and from the federal government. And for years, our mayor, Eric Garcetti, has said that the city needs more help from those other layers of government. So now he's gotten it, at least temporarily. So this is going to be a big test.

KING: Yeah, high stakes. Anna Scott of member station KCRW in Los Angeles. Thanks, Anna, as always.

SCOTT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WATER'S "ROBBIE'S NEST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.