Is it Time for a Homelessness Czar?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The recent PPIC poll lists homelessness as the number one concern among Californians. No surprise, frustration dealing with the problem is growing not only for those who suffer homelessness but also for residents and business owners who are unhappy about the growing problem in their neighborhoods.

Government has responded with money both on the state and local levels but the process is moving at a slow bureaucratic pace and when something is done to help alleviate the problem it turns out to be extremely costly.

The latest audit by Ron Galperin, the Los Angeles City controller, revealed affordable housing built on taxpayer dollars is costing about $600,000 a unit. You can buy a home in parts of Los Angeles County for that kind of money.

Galperin also complained about the slowness of the building projects. Taxpayers approved new funds through a bond for the homeless three years ago yet not one unit of homeless housing has been completed.

Other solutions are talked about such as the “right to shelter” movement that would build shelters but also obligate the homeless to accept a shelter when it is offered. Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-chairs of the governor’s newly created Homeless and Supportive Housing Advisory Task Force, are pushing the plan.  They are talking but not much is moving since the idea became public.

Now former Assemblyman Mike Gatto has introduced an initiative to confront the homeless problem. His solution: find a balance between criminalizing homelessness but also not ignoring crimes such as defecating or drug use in public. He proposes a special court to determine the cause of the illegal action and help direct offenders to appropriate treatments.

All well and good but what or how can we make things happen faster and cut through red tape?

Los Angeles City and the state passed legislation to streamline the building process and L.A. recently passed what is described as a “concierge” position to oversee the efficient spending of the bond money to get necessary approvals through multiple city departments.

Do we need more? A powerful advocate for getting the job done?

Maybe the answer is a mission driven homelessness czar who can secure building permits in short order and identify less expensive but effective programs to get people off the street.

Obstacles exist for this idea, as well, with the public demanding input on solutions—especially the ones they don’t like—and filing lawsuits. But waiting for government issued permits to build government funded housing while the serious problem festers is unacceptable.

If there was clearly someone in charge of acting on solutions we’ll know who to blame or who to praise and just maybe something will get done on a problem concerning many Californians.

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