Mayoral candidate, Karen Bass talks with community leaders and activists about her proposal to address homelessness, gentrification, and city services
Mayoral candidate, Karen Bass met with more than 50 African American citizens of Los Angeles to outline her agenda regarding several hot-button issues affecting the Black community.
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls organized the virtual forum that he billed as a “courageous conversation to align community concerns with the campaign platform.” During the 90-minute session, Bass listened, responded and committed to more meetings to learn what’s on the minds of the people, as well as share her intentions if she is elected mayor in June 2022.
“We also wanted to facilitate mutual learning between the candidate and the community to explore common ground and higher ground in strategies for prevention and intervention to police and community violence,” Sauls said.
“Our purpose was to leverage our collective thinking to advance the holistic health, wellness, and safety of our communities,” he added. A longtime community organizer, Sauls was previously the pastor of Holman United Methodist and is the co-convener of Clergy for Black Lives.
Serving as the moderator, Sauls opened the conversation, asking Bass to elaborate on her public statements to approach homelessness as a public safety and health crisis. Specifically, he requested the candidate to explain how her strategy would treat unhoused people with humanity, effectively and with dignity.
“I believe this is a crisis that is an emergency and should be dealt with like it is an earthquake. I think the mayor and federal government should declare a state of emergency. When you do that, you can turn on the spigot for resources,” replied Bass.
“I do believe people should be off the streets immediately and to be housed right away. I think there are categories of people to be housed, whether it is due to mental illness, substance abuse, former foster youth, veterans, economically unhoused – all those reasons need to be dealt with and have different strategies. We have to address why people are unhoused to begin with,” she insisted.
The candidate also urged that the structural causes of homelessness be addressed, which include “profound income inequality.” As a result, housing in Los Angeles has become unaffordable for large segments of the city’s population.
In her opinion, Bass said, “We have to address the root causes and we have to come up with temporary housing that preserves dignity. The shelters are gone. The only real solution is permanent housing, but I don’t want to wait [for it] because people are dying on the streets every single day.”
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter – L.A., inquired about the public safety plan recently issued by Bass. Expressing the importance of budgeting funds dedicated to housing, Abdullah conveyed her disappointment that the document failed to allocate money for “things that we know actually make communities safe” such as mental health assistance and afterschool programs.
“The public safety plan that you issued was the exact opposite of what we were expecting from someone like you who has been in the community many years,” said Abdullah.
“It feels like you’re capitulating to LAPPL (Los Angeles Police Protective League) and other police interests. [Your plan] is not the progressive Karen Bass. We need you to be moral and ethical [in] saying we are going to fund the things that make the communities safe.”
Making similar comments, Pastor Cue Jn Marie of Skid Row’s Church Without Walls said, “We don’t want any more of our money going towards law enforcement. In my 15 years on skid row, it doesn’t seem like things have gotten better. The policies you’re bringing forth seem to me like a replay of the 1990s.”
Bass answered that she anticipated that many people would not like her public safety plan, but strongly believed that she needed to address the increase in crime that has occurred over the past year.
“I’m worried that the uptick in crime is going to be used to wipe out reforms that we spent decades fighting for. I believe that there is plenty of money in this country and in this city and the only way to address it is to focus on prevention and intervention,” she stressed and added that the plan actually contains three parts. She said that the second section will emphasize prevention and intervention strategies, and the final part will focus on policing.
Linking policing, housing and public safety, Sheila Bates insisted, “Housing is public safety. We’re discussing it like it’s a separate issue.
“Police are not public safety. Poor houseless neighbors are often victims of police violence. Police take up 50% of the City’s budget,” stated Bates. “It’s taking valuable resources from the very issue of houselessness.”
Agreeing with Bates’ viewpoint about housing being public safety, Bass said she worked to ensure the funding in Proposition H was earmarked for housing for foster youth. Also, regarding housing, the candidate mentioned that traditionally Black districts are facing gentrification, corporate takeovers, and what Bass described as “predators coming in essentially stealing housing from our neighbors.” Regarding that situation, she said her goal is help people retain their homes.
“People lose them for many reasons and one way is because of predators, especially on elderly folks. They prey on them, asking them to make corrections or offer them loans, and then they wind up stealing their homes. Order number one is to help people stay in their homes and repair their homes without getting bad loans,” said Bass.
She also noted that the next document she plans to release will highlight services including strategies to prevent crime, projects to help children avoid gangs, and funding to hire former gang members to lead intervention programs for youth.
“I also commit to forming a Development Department in the Mayor’s Office, where I’m going to hire staff to look for money because there is tons of money in this city and country, but there’s no mechanism in City Hall to go after money,” said the candidate.
“I want to invest in community-based programs. It’s often viewed that the county does services, but there’s nothing to stop the City from providing services. I’m going to commit to raise the money that is needed to make sure that community-based programs that are providing services have the resources that they need,” added Bass. In addition, she vowed to review the People’s Budget developed by BLM-LA.
Closing commenters reiterated previous remarks about reduced focus on policing in Black and Brown neighborhoods, increasing housing options for the homeless, deploying more efforts to clean neighborhoods, defeating poverty, establishing participatory budgeting and emphasizing more youth programs.
At the conclusion of the event, Bass thanked all attendees for participating and said she was looking forward to more conversations in the future.
Saul said, “The vitality and viability of our democracy depends on these constructive engagements. When we listen and see each other, we can boldly broaden our circle of concern and compassion to realize a more just and fair Los Angeles grounded in the safety, dignity and prosperity of all Angelenos!”