A senior citizen living alone in a hotel room he can barely afford. Families staring down eviction because a parent is one of the millions of Californians to lose their job this year. More than 269,000 K-12 students currently experiencing, or on the brink of homelessness across California, enough to fill Dodger Stadium five times over. This is the picture of homelessness in Los Angeles today — a crisis that has been allowed to fester for decades, and has greatly worsened due to COVID-19.
With the COVID-19 endangering the lives of those already experiencing homelessness, forcing those already on the brink out of their homes, throwing even more Angelenos into housing instability because of lost wages and jobs, our homelessness crisis has reached a new low. And what’s clear is that if we don’t take action now, the crisis within a crisis will still get even worse.
In July of 2019, well before COVID-19 took hold, Governor Newsom appointed the new Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, a coalition of elected officials and nonprofit leaders from across the state. The Homeless Council was charged with mapping a path to reduce homelessness, improve access to mental health and shelter services, and reduce the cost, while boosting the supply of housing options.
In January 2020, the Homeless Council proposed three key recommendations to finally reverse the cycle of homelessness in California: create an enforceable accountability mandate to end homelessness; adopt a unified strategy across the state; and create a single point of authority for homelessness in California.
We believed then, and believe now, that our entire state must come together, agree on a cohesive vision, and hold our leaders accountable. The time for piecemeal solutions is over.
Just weeks after the key goals were proposed, COVID-19 hit our communities. It became impossible for leaders across the state to prioritize homelessness as they worked to stem the bleeding. Now a year later, the virus continues to ravage our communities, and elected officials across the state are working to chart a path forward for California as the 2021 legislative session begins.
As we all work together to rebuild Los Angeles, it’s critical for us to remember: fighting COVID-19 means fighting homelessness. With so many Angelenos experiencing homelessness — and so many more on the brink — to fully heal from COVID-19, we can’t go back to before. We must move forward, and ensure every Angelenos has a place to call home.
That’s why the City Council of Los Angeles endorsed Assembly Bill 71, authored by Assemblymember Luz Rivas, which is currently being considered by the State Assembly. The coalition behind this bill includes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sacramento Mayor Darryl Steinberg and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, along with leading homelessness advocates and nonprofit leaders from across the state.
This legislation is historic: it would establish a permanent source of funding for fighting homelessness on multiple fronts. Simply by closing a major corporate tax loophole that allows corporations to avoid paying taxes on overseas income, and by resetting the tax rate on major corporations back to what it was in 1980, we can raise the revenue we need to reverse the cycle of homelessness in our state.
It runs counter to our values that corporations are protected — or, in some cases, have benefited — from the impacts of COVID-19, while the virus hits low-income communities and communities of color particularly hard, forcing many into homelessness at shocking rates. By taking these simple steps, we can fight for equity across California, and make housing a human right for which all Californians are worthy.
AB 71’s aims are ambitious — and appropriately so. This new funding could prevent 28,000 people from falling into homelessness, find interim housing for 25,000 people, create affordable housing units for 43,000 people, and provide navigation, case management, and employment support to 50,000 people.
These are the thoughtful, comprehensive, and ambitious — but achievable — goals we need to reverse the cycle of homelessness. The people of Los Angeles, from the San Fernando Valley to South Los Angeles — those experiencing homelessness, and the many more who are on the brink — deserve nothing less.
Nury Martinez is President of the Los Angeles City Council and Mark Ridley-Thomas is Chair of the Los Angeles City Council Committee on Homelessness and Poverty.