While Mark Ridley-Thomas has less than six months in his position as the 10th District Councilmember, his roots with the Empowerment Congress go way back, nearly 30 years. So, it’s no surprised that he joined with the community group to host “Reimagining L.A.: What’s Next?”
The Zoom event, held on March 17, featured a presentation and discussion about the city’s funding allocation to address and prevent homelessness as well as re-envision public safety. Ridley-Thomas, who founded the Empowerment Congress in 1992 during his previous stint on the City Council, has frequently partnered with the nonprofit to examine policies and issues that impact the quality of life of stakeholders throughout Los Angeles.
With this gathering of 75+ people, both the councilmember and the organization aimed to bring 10th Council District members up-to-speed about the two pressing issues and solicit input about potential strategies that municipal government might adopt to deal with these community concerns. In addition to Ridley-Thomas, Rhea Mac, co-chair of the Empowerment Congress Committee on Homelessness, served as facilitator; and Charlene Dimas-Peinado, also co-chair of the Empowerment Congress Committee on Homelessness, and Byron L. Smith, Sr., co-chair of the Empowerment Congress Public Safety and Justice Committee, were the moderators.
“We are here to take another step in educating, engaging and empowering and I’m proud to be on this journey with you,” said Ridley-Thomas, as he opened the meeting. He followed his remarks with a PowerPoint exhibit that outlined how the City Council plans to reinvest $88 million cut from the L.A. Police Department’s budget into resources to improve disadvantaged communities and communities of color. Each of the city’s 15 council districts will receive funds in the 2021-2022 budget that are in line with the individual poverty rates established by the 2020 U.S. Census.
Focusing on the apportionment to Council District 10, the councilmember explained, “CD 10 received $4.5 million allocation and the priority I sought to bring to bear was to look at the issue of homelessness.” He said that $1.5 million would be distributed to nonprofit providers to create “Encampment to Home” initiatives in Koreatown, Mid-City and the Leimert Park/Crenshaw Corridor.
One-half million will go to operating the new South Los Angeles Street Engagement and Coordination Hub that will be located near 18th Street and Washington. Another $500,00 will be dedicated to the Stay Housed L.A. program run by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles for Eviction Defense Services. The program is designed to assist CD 10 residents in preventing eviction and homelessness and help businesses avoid closing down.
As his history verifies, Ridley-Thomas has advocated on behalf of homelessness prevention throughout his public service career as a state assembly member, a state senator and a L.A. County supervisor.
When he assumed his current position in December 2020, one of his first acts was to sponsor the Right to Housing legislation. The motion called for the City Administrative Officer to report, within 60 days, on a legal framework to implement a Right to Housing strategy, an assessment to fund the initiative and an estimate of the resources needed in partnership with the county, state and federal government.
In addition, Ridley-Thomas indicated that $750,000 of CD 10’s allocation would be devoted to fighting poverty with a Universal Basic Income pilot and job training program. Also, $500,000 would be earmarked for the reimagining public safety initiative through a pilot program on unarmed response to 911 calls and reimagining community and arts enterprises in St. Elmo Village.
“All of these resources, as it relates to the homelessness part of the equation, are illustrative of what we think of as the right to housing – what it can and should be,” insisted Ridley-Thomas. “We need to be laser-like focused on this challenge, which is just that great and just that deep. We cannot walk away from the crisis that confronts us called homelessness!”
As part of the panel discussion, Dimas-Peinado asked the councilmember to “explain how the issue of homelessness became the focus of these resources.” He replied, “I think if we’re going to take seriously reimagining, there’s only one issue I can think of that cuts through the issue of public safety, economic justice, issues related to housing, issues related to land use, issues related to mental health and public health and that’s the issue of homelessness.” He also mentioned that in several polls, L.A. voters selected homelessness as the “most pressing issue confronting the city of Los Angeles.”
Smith questioned Ridley-Thomas about the next step that people should expect as far as the reinvestment process. He answered that city staff would work on designating the programs and nonprofits to work with and that the Street Engagement and Coordination Hub would be operating soon.
“As we move toward implementation, we will be soliciting input from the stakeholders in those communities to see what resources we can bring to bear in the area of prevention, intervention and innovation,” added Ridley-Thomas.
In the second half of the meeting, attendees participated in breakout sessions on reimagining public safety, homelessness and fighting poverty. CD 10 staff facilitated and provided summaries of the sessions.
Emerson Luke, who moderated public safety, said that his group talked about ways to aid people “who through no fault of their own have found themselves homeless.” Dhakshike Wickrema, who assisted the homelessness group, recounted that one area that concerned attendees was “sanitation around homeless encampments and continuing to have money allocated to homelessness in future budgets.” According to Porsha Cropper, who oversaw the fighting poverty session, the emphasis was on outcomes that “restore dignity to those who are experiencing homelessness and put them on a pathway to wellness.”
Concluding the meeting, Ridley-Thomas expressed his appreciation to all in attendance and said, “We have a lot of work that we can and should be attending to. I’m pleased that the Empowerment Congress will be leading the way to translate policy into budgetary items. This is an enlightened way of making our city better.”