The COVID-19 pandemic escalated the homelessness plaguing cities across the United States, and citizens have begged officials to take action. Los Angeles is being sued by local businesses and activists, and its response is offering $3 billion for housing. Is that enough to solve this crisis? Or does it require better ideas than giving the homeless cash and a roof over their heads?
The California city, home to celebrities and 41,000 homeless residents, will use the $3 billion over five years to accommodate those considered chronically homeless or chronically ill under the county’s care.
In 2020, a consortium of residents, community leaders, activists, and business owners filed a complaint against Los Angeles city and county officials for failing to address the homeless population’s day-to-day and long-term problems. This included hunger, the pandemic, crime, and a lack of housing. The settlement still awaits approval from the city council, but it would finance 14,000 to 16,000 beds.
City Council President Nury Martinez supports the plan. However, she shared in a statement that the local government must do more to provide rehabilitation services, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment. So why isn’t the government already providing these long-term solutions? Arguably, the beds are a Band-Aid that barely covers the rapidly growing homeless population in Los Angeles. Perhaps members of the council should agree to the settlement only if it addresses the causes and escalations instead of providing a temporary solution.
Rise in Homelessness
Los Angeles is not the only homeless hotspot in the United States. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has his hands full over on the East Coast. Last weekend, a New York University prospective student-parent tour was pelted with eggs by a group of homeless people. As the visitors strolled the streets of Greenwich Village, vagrants hassled them for cash, and some were even grabbed.
A tour guide at the school said that “every single day something is happening … our duty is to sell the school … and obviously being harassed is not something you want to deal with on a daily basis.” The guide also cited that most visitors verbally express that they feel unsafe and no longer want to apply to the highly ranked university.
New York officials and advocates claim the city is “back to the Giuliani era” under Adams when it comes to treating the homeless. Is that a bad thing? The newly elected mayor says, “You have the right to sleep on the street. You don’t have the right to build a miniature house.”
Adams sent NYPD officers to clear out the homeless encampments in the subway and transit hubs. He wants New Yorkers off the streets and into the city’s shelter system. City Council Member Diana Ayala, a Bronx Democrat, says there is a fine line the mayor needs to walk. “People have a right to be concerned, and we have a responsibility to address these concerns, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t take us back to the Giuliana era where we were solving every problem by locking up Black and brown folk and criminalizing property,” she said in an interview. No one reasonably wants the homeless behind bars just for being homeless. How do we help people residing in an REI tent in the park that children should be playing in?
Experts, academics, advocates, and elected officials all have different ideas for solving the unhoused issue plaguing our country. Their various arguments direct responsibility to different parties: from the government to the rich to the homeless themselves. What contributes to homelessness should be the center point of solutions. Families and college students live in their cars, but why? For them, it’s the cost of housing. They don’t make enough to feed four kids and pay rent for more than a studio apartment. Or they took out loans to cover only tuition and can’t work enough hours between classes to afford rent and utilities.
The other portion of the homeless population suffers mental illness and drug abuse, so how do we help them? Providing gift cards, sleeping bags, and tents won’t get them off the street and onto a payroll. So who’s responsible for lending them a hand, getting them off drugs, and securing them a livelihood? Is it the local or federal government, the rich, or kind and compassionate fellow Americans liable for resolving this issue?