End Street Homelessness

Read Rick Caruso’s detailed plan to house the homeless in LA and get people the care they need to get back on their feet.

Let’s get real about where we are at: the present system, and the politicians who built it to suit their interest, is not working. It has to be pulled from its roots. 

Over 5 years ago, Los Angeles voters were asked to raise taxes on themselves to give politicians and bureaucrats the resources to tackle homelessness. Voters acted. Citizens did their part. What did they get in return from the politicians and bureaucrats? Failure. Only a handful of beds have been built. And the crisis has since exploded. 

The way this problem gets worse is to put once again our faith in the politicians and system that has utterly failed us. Today we are facing a crisis in our city that has broken every record, and continues to worsen. 

We need a real plan, and real action. Now.

Declare a State of Emergency

Let’s finally call the homelessness crisis what it is, an emergency of epic proportions that deserves a true FEMA-level response that comes with federal, state, and local coordination and funds to quickly house those who are living on our streets. No more wasting precious time allowing thousands to suffer while politicians and bureaucrats fight over failed policies that have produced just a handful of shelter beds. We must demand help from federal and state governments immediately, and we must demand assistance in getting people off the streets and into housing and addiction treatment centers today.

The CITY OF LA represents more than TWO-THIRDS (67%) of the homelessness crises across all of LA County. We know the crisis here in LA is worse than elsewhere, but the difference is staggering – and deserves a proportionate, FEMA-like response.

The last homeless count for the City of LA placed the unhoused population at roughly 42,000 souls. That is the size of 92% of incorporated cities, towns and villages in the US.1 Imagine the population of an entire town being homeless and the Mayor and City Council NOT declaring an emergency. It’s unfathomable, and unacceptable. But here in Los Angeles it is everyday life.

Declaring a State of Emergency will give us the ability to expedite sheltering decisions by creating a single point of accountability in the Mayor and getting City Council politics out of the way. We can’t solve this problem with 15 career politicians catering to the loudest special interests — we need a single point of accountability who answers only to the voters. Rick Caruso has the fortitude to tackle these problems head on and focus on them until the job is done.  He won’t fixate on what office to run for next. Rick Caruso will Clean Up LA.

On Day One, Rick will:

  • Declare a State of Emergency.  Declare a State of Emergency that won’t end until we Clean Up LA. Rick will activate the Emergency Management Department to immediately begin work on activating emergency powers, funds, and plans.
  • Demand State and Federal Response.  Demand assistance from the Governor, State Legislature, and Federal government in providing emergency funding, shelters, and case workers to help our veterans and others who need assistance with mental health or addiction treatment.
  • Stop the City Council from Standing in the Way.  Prevent the City Council from micromanaging decisions relating to shelter or housing siting, funding, or other decisions that prevent people from getting shelter.
  • Elevate a Citywide Homelessness Coordinator.  Immediately, through Executive Order, create a Department of Homeless Housing and appoint a Citywide Homelessness Coordinator to manage all City efforts, including those of the Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Management Department, Housing Department, Sanitation Department, and other agencies to immediately begin focusing all efforts on Cleaning Up LA and getting people housed, fed, into treatment, and off our streets.

Cut Waste and Demand Accountability Once and For All

In 2016, politicians persuaded Angelenos to tax themselves to help create more housing for the homeless. All told, Proposition HHH created upwards of $1.2 billion for housing projects. What did the politicians and bureaucrats get done in the past 6 years with all that money after promising over 10,000 new units of housing? 18 projects for a total of 1,142 rooms. On top of that, the average cost per room is an outrageously wasteful $700,000. We need to stop the waste and demand accountability and real results. 

On Day One, Rick will:

  • Conduct a Top to Bottom Audit of Waste.  Direct staff to perform a top to bottom audit of how the previous administration and City Council wasted hundreds of millions of dollars and create policies to prevent that from ever happening again.
  • Cut Wasteful Projects.  Immediately cancel all contracts for housing projects that have not been built and begin the process to limit per unit costs to come in under $350,000 by ensuring we utilize modular housing, shipping containers,  and other innovative and cost effective methods that can reduce timelines and provide dignified housing.
  • Appoint Real Construction Experts.  Fire all members of the HHH Oversight Committee and appoint new members with strong backgrounds in finance, construction, and auditing and ensure that all new contracts for projects are vetted for cost efficiency and speed.
  • Request Outside Investigation.  Request the State Controller to immediately conduct a full investigation of all construction contracts related to homeless housing and root out waste and fraud.
  • Demand Accountability. Deliver real time reporting of homelessness and a strict accounting of every dollar spent – and results. Rick’s plan will be to deliver real-time report cards down to the neighborhood level, including goals, dollars spent, and outcomes.

Solve the Shortage of Emergency Shelter Beds

With over 44,000 people on the streets, we need shelter beds and we need them now. With a Homeless Emergency declared, we can immediately begin to deploy shelters and housing options in places that make logical sense and cut through the red tape that has hampered the response thus far. Rick won’t wait for some bureaucrat to tell him why he can or can’t get people off the streets. With an Emergency Declaration the Mayor will have that decision making power, not the City Council. 

On Day One, Rick will:

  • Build 30,000 Shelter Beds in 300 Days.  Set a goal and plan to create an additional 30,000 shelter beds in his first 300 days. With an additional 30,000 beds, we will have enough beds to quickly and effectively get large amounts of the unhoused population off the streets, out of encampments, and into service and treatment programs. Hundreds of potential locations for shelters exist and we know based on numerous audits and studies that publicly and privately owned land exists that can be immediately utilized for shelter purposes and we will work from day one to do that.
  • Coordinate Supportive Services.  Ensure that all aspects of the plan for more beds work seamlessly with additional mental health, job training, permanent housing, and relocation efforts to ensure no one is warehoused in a shelter, but rather, temporarily located in a safe, clean, and dignified environment to get them the care they need. We can all agree – a bed in a shelter is more humane and dignified than sleeping on the street.
  • Take Back our Parks and Public Spaces.  Ensure the plan respects the safety of our schools, parks, and other sensitive areas. While we must move quickly to create more beds, we can’t do so at the risk of anyone’s safety or security. Shelters will be located in appropriate places and with appropriate notice to surrounding neighborhoods. When building new shelters, Rick will maintain a commitment to the communities in which those shelters are built to ensure they are safe and clean.
  • Share the Burden.  To be clear, no one will have a veto over where shelters go and we must ensure all parts of the city bear the burden to ensure we work through this problem as a city. I won’t allow any one part of the city to become a central location for shelters, rather we will ensure that shelters are equitably spread out.
  • Focus on Countywide Solutions.  Lastly, we MUST look at locations outside our city, such as unincorporated LA County and other locations with lower land costs and population density. A bed is a bed, whether it’s in San Pedro or Palmdale, so every option must be on the table.

Address Mental Health and Addiction Head-On

In 2019 the LA Times found that more than 76% of the homeless population had substance abuse or mental illness issues. This was contrary to the 29% reported by LAHSA, the Homeless Services bureaucracy.  The good news is we don’t need a report or newspaper article to tell us what we already know: drugs and mental health issues are ravaging our homeless population and every police officer in skid row will tell you, the dealers and criminals are preying on the homeless as a disposable source of customers. We must intensify efforts to crack down on illicit drug manufacturing and dealing that makes our mental health crisis worse. WE MUST END THE CYCLE. 

HEALTH and BEHAVIORAL HEALTH care needs, and experiences of abuse and trauma, are major factors in loss of housing among unsheltered people, most especially for unsheltered women. Unsheltered people were ….

  • … More than 4x as likely to report that physical health conditions had contributed to loss of housing as sheltered people (46% vs. 11%)
  • … Nearly 3x as likely to report mental health conditions had contributed to loss of housing (50% to 17%),
  • … and more than 8x as likely to report that use of drugs or alcohol had contributed to loss of housing (51% vs. 6%)
Chart credit: California Policy Lab

To make matters worse, the City of Los Angeles has NO health department or mental health service streams. We must rely on the County, where resources must be shared with 87 other cities. As the largest population of LA County — and also the largest contributor to property tax rolls — it’s time we created our OWN MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION TREATMENT DEPARTMENT to fund and implement critical services that our residents need. 

A LA Times survey from a few years ago found much more mental health suffering and substance abuse among the unsheltered. …“67% had either a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder. Individually, substance abuse affects 46% of those living on the streets — more than three times the rate previously reported — and mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, affects 51% of those living on the streets, according to the analysis.” Note, this was a few years ago, pre-pandemic. 

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Rick will move to immediately start the process of creating a City of Los Angeles Health and Human Services Department to focus on our unhoused mentally ill and addicted population.

As mayor, Rick will work with the State and County to ensure we can:

  • Create a Department of Mental Health and Addiction Treatment.  Rick won’t wait for the County or the failing bureaucratic process as we know it to deliver the services those suffering on the street need. As Mayor, Rick will create a City-run Department focused on mental health and addiction services, the primary mandate of which will be speed. 
  • Hire 500 Mental Health and Addiction Caseworkers.  Hire and allocate the largest mental health and addiction treatment workforce this state has seen to get people treatment quickly and efficiently. Rick’s goal will be to have 500 people on the streets working to intake those who need help the most.
  • Compel People Suffering Mental Illness into Care.  Amend laws to make conservatorships for the homeless population streamlined and accessible. It is truly a travesty that someone as cognizant and aware as Britney Spears can be in a conservatorship, but a homeless person slowly killing themselves with a brutal meth addiction can’t be compelled into treatment. 
  • Create a Mental Health Justice Center.  Create a Mental Health Justice Center to ensure anyone who is compelled into treatment is treated fairly and evaluated in a timely manner to ensure that once their addiction treatment is complete, they can rejoin society with job training, continued free mental health services, and addiction treatment.
  • Have Mental Health Workers Respond to 911 Calls.  Hire mental health first responders to join our Police and Fire units on calls to ensure those with mental health issues are treated humanely and without unnecessary use of force incidents
  • Fight Fentanyl and Opioid Abuse.  Deploy a large-scale and properly trained police effort to rid our streets of fentanyl and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. For too long we have let dealers and criminals run rampant within homeless encampments and skid row, creating a largely unfettered and hospitable environment for drug dealing and manufacturing.

Remove Tent Encampments Permanently & Enforce Quality of Life Laws

For far too long encampments have grown because of a lack of a clear and concise effort by the Mayor and City Council to build the shelter and service network. As a result, neighborhoods have been overrun with RVs, tent encampments that look like disaster zones, and human waste is now something we must all watch for as we try to enjoy our parks and beaches. Restrictions on sleeping in public areas are in place for the safety of everyone involved. Existing laws are not being enforced, and ensuring those quality of life rules are abided by is step number one.

Within 1 year of being mayor, Rick will:

  • Deploy 500 New Sanitation Workers to Clean the Streets. Hire 500 new sanitation workers to clean the streets and parks. After years of neglect, we need to deep clean our City. Rick will make it a top priority to reclaim our neighborhood assets and ensure they are accessible to all.
  • Offer Job Opportunities to Move People off the Street. Create a job training apprenticeship program with local labor and trade unions to train and employ those who want a job. We won’t just take people off the streets, but we will help those who want and need a job to make a living and take care of themselves and their families.
  • Stop New Encampments. Ensure encampments don’t spring back up. As long as there are shelter beds available, street encampments, no matter how small or large, will not be tolerated. We cannot allow the idea of living on the street to be an alternative to accepting a dignified and humane shelter bed.

Pursue Creative Solutions that Work, Not Costly Ones That Don’t

This crisis took decades of neglect and constant inattention to create and no matter how hard we push, the current set of tools we have just aren’t enough to quickly undo decades of mismanagement. That’s why Rick will demand creativity and efficiency in addressing this crisis and Rick will not tolerate the status quo or answers that say “because that is how we do it” from bureaucrats and politicians. As a builder, Rick knows firsthand what it takes to be creative, compassionate, and relentlessly focused on results and he will utilize those skills and experiences to think outside the box and get the job done.

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Quadruple Tiny Homes.  Quadruple efforts to build inexpensive cabin/tiny home communities at a fraction of the current cost. No more costly undergrounding of electrical or sewer lines unnecessarily. We will build them fast, cheap, and with dignity and humanity.
  • Convert Cityowned Property to Shelter.  Immediately draft plans to convert every city owned property either into affordable housing or temporary shelter. We’ll partner with the private sector to lower construction costs and create incentives to get the jobs done faster and under budget.
  • Continue and Expand Homekey and Roomkey. Project Roomkey and Homekey were COVID-initiated programs to deliver fast housing solutions to those experiencing homelessness. They worked, and Rick will move to double down on what worked with or without the impetus of a pandemic. 
  • Acquire New Land for Housing.  Utilize the City’s borrowing power to purchase land for permanent housing and shelter needs. The City’s borrowing power is immense and with the right business mind at the helm, we can easily and quickly purchase land, lease it to developers to cover the debt financing, and immediately incentivize fast construction of housing and shelter. By eliminating the carrying costs for the private sector, we can spur new development very quickly.

Prevent People from Becoming Homeless

No matter how much we focus on those on the street, we will never truly address the problem of homelessness unless we also focus on preventing those on the fringes from falling into homelessness as well. There must be more options for those who are one or two missed paychecks away from losing their homes. 

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Expand Emergency Rental Assistance.  Create emergency loans and rental assistance to prevent homelessness. Studies have shown that micro loans are highly effective tools in combating homelessness and poverty and far more cost effective then other intervention programs. Providing low cost or no cost loans for those who just need a helping hand, not a hand out, will stop families and individuals from falling into homelessness
  • Establish Mobile Resource Centers  Establish mobile resource centers that can quickly and effectively find those who are in need of various services but lack transportation options. These units will patrol neighborhoods on the lookout for those who need resources and ensure they are given access to whatever programs they need or qualify for.

Solve LA’s Long-term Affordable Housing Crisis

Economic hardship is the #1 cause cited for newly homeless, and the housing affordability crisis in LA and across the state continues to worsen.  Housing costs in Los Angeles are sky high and growing exponentially. The cost-per-door is outpacing the cost of single-family homes or most market-rate housing. Homelessness starts rising when median rents in a region exceed 22% of median income and rises more sharply at 32%; in LA, the median rent is 46.7% (half of median income).  

The reason for this is simple: building in Los Angeles isn’t just expensive, it’s designed to incentivize building high-cost luxury housing over affordable housing. Los Angeles has one of the longest entitlement processes in the country, with most projects taking upwards of 24 months. This timeline creates massive holding costs for builders and, when combined with fees, labor laws, and environmental review challenges, typical projects get delayed for years. This creates a perverse system where the only housing worth building is the most expensive kind, which in turn drives up rents across the board. The solution is obvious: we must build more housing, of all types, in all neighborhoods, in a smart and community-appropriate way. Rick won’t tolerate creating more density in places that can’t support it, but he will advocate for more density and height in corridors where it is appropriate. 

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Leverage City’s Borrowing Power for Housing. Draft legislation to enable the use of the City’s borrowing power to purchase and carry land costs for affordable housing projects with unit counts over 100.
  • Waive Fees on Affordable Projects. Immediately direct the creation of legislation to waive or eliminate all fees for projects that agree to 30% affordability ratios for unit counts and sign covenants that restrict rental rates for 30 years.
  • Expand Housing with Services. Establish permanent supportive housing coupled with specific services offered, such as counseling PTSD, mental health and addiction services.
  • Establish Rapid Re-housing Program. Establish a rapid re-housing program that is built to move fast to re-house those who need it.
  • Cut Down on Frivolous Lawsuits Stopping Housing. Mandate the disclosure of CEQA challenge payments by labor unions, environmental groups, and any other groups who regularly use CEQA challenges to unfairly and disingenuously leverage development projects. Mandate a $15,000 application fee for all CEQA challenges to reduce frivolous CEQA challenges that impede sensible development.
  • Expand Section 8. Reduce or eliminate all fees and regulations for Section 8 housing voucher projects where 75% of units or more are dedicated to Section 8 voucher recipients. Work with the federal government to triple the allocation of Section 8 housing vouchers in Los Angeles and simultaneously create more incentives for landlords to accept them.

Approach the Problem from A Regional Lens

We know homelessness is not just a City of Los Angeles problem, but one that impacts all cities in the Southland. That is why we must work with other cities and jurisdictions to share the costs, burdens, and solutions equally. There is no reason why cities large and small can’t band together to create joint assistance programs that ignore invisible city limits and stop incentivizing the dumping of homeless people across city lines like trash that no one notices. 

As mayor, Rick will immediately:

  • Spearhead Regional Task Force.  Create a regional task force of neighboring cities to develop joint plans collectively fight this crisis and provide each member value information on proven techniques, insights, and strategies
  • Create Joint Assistance Authority.  Create a joint assistance authority to immediately be able to transfer resources and data across city lines without delay or red tape and ensure city limits don’t prevent much needed aid from reaching those who need it.
  • Expand Data Sharing.  Provide data sharing and intelligence sharing on drug trafficking trends, illicit substance manufacturing, and other criminal elements to ensure we stamp out the drug epidemic ravaging our unhoused and housed populations.

Los Angeles has been a magnet for lawyers looking to make a quick buck with costly lawsuits that our grossly incompetent City Attorney quickly settles rather than fight. Year after year, whether it’s the Lavan decision or the Mitchell Settlement, time and time again, the City chooses to settle frivolous lawsuits brought on by high powered litigation lawyers motivated by legal fees rather than the wellbeing of the homeless. These lawsuits have cost millions of dollars and completely tied the city’s hands behind its back in terms of how it can address this crisis. 

As mayor, Rick will:

  • Not be Afraid to Veto What Won’t Work. Rick will not hesitate to veto any settlement brought forth by the City Attorney and City Council relating to homelessness that pays a single penny to lawyers or activists; veto any settlement that does not provide the City with MORE tools to fight homelessness; and veto any settlement that increases the rights of the homeless over the rights of law abiding citizens trying to provide for themselves and their families.
  • Examine and Fix Legal Barriers. Immediately move to cancel or dissolve any previous settlements and re-litigate all settlements that have narrowed the City’s policy choices.

1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/241695/number-of-us-cities-towns-villages-by-population-size/

2 https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-07/homeless-population-mental-illness-disability

3 https://www.capolicylab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Health-Conditions-Among-Unsheltered-Adults-in-the-U.S.pdf

4 https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-07/homeless-population-mental-illness-disability

5 https://www.lahsa.org/documents?id=4558-2020-greater-los-angeles-homeless-count-presentation.pdf

6 https://www.lahsa.org/news?article=726-2020-greater-los-angeles-homeless-count-results