LA taps hotel rooms as estimated 40,000 people live homeless

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The new mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, said Sunday her administration will start moving homeless people from tent encampments into hotels and motels through a new program that launches Tuesday.

Bass told NBC’s “Meet the Press” host, Chuck Todd, that her plan to move homeless people into rooms immediately will not “address everybody, but it is going to address, hopefully, a significant number.” She said people will not be forced to move, but that sanitation crews will stand by to clean up areas after people have left.

“But this is not coercing people. This is not ticketing people or incarcerating people. This is moving people from tents to hotels or motels,” she said.

On her first day as mayor of Los Angeles, Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness. She vowed to get people housed and more housing built so that residents can see a real difference, which hasn’t been visible despite billions spent on programs to curb homelessness, including $1.2 billion in the current city budget.

Bass, a Democrat and former congresswoman, has said she intends to get over 17,000 homeless people into housing in her first year through a mix of interim and permanent facilities.

An estimated 40,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles, a city of nearly 4 million. Homelessness is hugely visible throughout California with people living in tents and cars and sleeping outdoors on sidewalks and under highway overpasses.

Bass said outreach workers will try to coax people indoors. People are homeless for a variety of reasons, including mental illness, addiction and job loss.

The mayor’s office did not provide on Sunday details of the housing program, including what it would cost and where the money would come from.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom first launched the idea of placing homeless people in motel and hotel rooms at the start of the pandemic in 2020. He has since encouraged cities and counties to convert motels and other buildings into housing for homeless people.

Advocates for the homeless have welcomed the use of motel rooms, where people can have their own bathroom far away from the clutter of congregated shelters. But they have criticized what they call “sweeps” of encampments that force people to move and separate them from their belongings in the absence of a firm motel room offer.

Todd asked Bass how to judge her success on eliminating homelessness.

“Encampments should be significantly down if not eliminated, and there should be housing being built, underway, at a much more rapid pace,” she said. “And there should not be 40,000 people who are unhoused, that’s for sure.”

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