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Could ‘Conservatorship’ Be Another Solution for LA’s Homeless Crisis?

RANTZ & RAVEZ-The battle to combat the increasing homeless population in Los Angeles and surrounding cities continues to draw the attention and anger of residents, media and politicians.

There’s been lots of political talk with little or no action to resolve the situation. And recently we’ve been faced with the spread of serious diseases due to homeless living conditions on sidewalks and other public places.  

While many of us feel bad for those living on the streets, in cars and in other community locations, we are also alarmed that little is being done to eliminate the damage being done to our neighborhoods, despite the hundreds of millions of tax dollars being generated to address the situation. Whatever statistics you want to believe, sightings of the homeless population have increased daily in all neighborhoods, including most areas of the San Fernando Valley. People are not only sleeping on bus benches and in the middle of sidewalks along major streets, but in many residential neighborhoods. This is in addition to the proliferation of motorhomes being used as residences that have disrupted the tranquility of many neighborhoods where children once played in front yards and on sidewalks. To keep them safe, children are now being prevented from those innocent activities. 

There is a new petition circulating to recall Mayor Garcetti, blaming him for allowing the homeless population and associated diseases to get out of control. The LA Times and especially, reporter Steve Lopez, has been brutal at pointing the finger at Garcetti for his lack of leadership and action to remedy the situation. While I agree that the Mayor is the person at the top of the city bureaucracy, there are many others who must share the blame for the increasing homelessness throughout LA. 

How about City Attorney Mike Feuer who frequently settles cases and pays homeless advocates thousands of dollars instead of fighting for taxpayers who live with the homeless population encroaching on their property, reducing the quality of life for everyone. How about the judges who have sided with the homeless, forcing police and other public agencies to permit the homeless to collect all sorts of junk on sidewalks and urinate on public property when restroom facilities are not readily available. I know when most of us need to relieve ourselves we find a restroom somewhere, and at times, a public facility. We are taught this decent, responsible conduct when we are children.     

The Los Angeles Police Department has established the Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement Team (H.O.P.E.) in each of the four police bureaus: Central, South, West and Valley. A $4.5+ million budget is dedicated to the operation. The teams work with various social and community groups in addressing the homeless activity throughout Los Angeles. The officers and supervisors have all been pulled from their regular assignments and trained to specifically address this issue. 

While their resources are limited, it demonstrates that Chief Moore and the LAPD are attempting to utilize what resources they have to stem the tide of the homelessness in the LA. Think about it. Would anyone want to become a police officer and work in such an assignment? My hat is off to the officers who are assigned to the H.O.P.E. detail and exposed to many diseases daily.  

It is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is a pure and simple Quality of Life and Public Health issue. 

As the Honorary Mayor of Woodland Hills and a member of many community organizations, I meet residents and business owners every day. The main topic in the community is the homeless crisis in Los Angeles and what we’re doing about it. I can honestly tell you that money is being spent on administrative staff, research and litigation. The problem is only getting worse. While you hear reports from City Hall that many homeless people have been placed in some sort of residence, are the numbers real? If they were, would we see the double digit increase in the latest homeless count? 

I will remind you that the latest count showed the city’s homeless population up by double digits. Los Angeles is up 16% to over 36,300 people and up 12% in LA County to nearly 59,000 people. Along with the increasing numbers comes the various diseases associated with homeless life. You have heard them in the news: Typhus, Salmonella typhi, Scabies and MRSA, to list a few.          

Despite the City Attorney’s tendency to rollover and settle claims brought by homeless advocates and the courts, there are reasonable and effective legal solutions to the homeless crisis. It just takes courage to implement them. 

The ultra-liberal San Francisco elected officials recently authorized to remove homeless individuals and place them in a facility for their own health and safety. Known as Conservatorship, the program has the endorsement of Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and California State Senator Scott Wiener, along with many other political and civic leaders in San Francisco. They report that it is a necessary step in dealing with the often-homeless addicts who are a danger to themselves and others. The program allows a court to appoint a public conservator for those who have been involuntarily detained for psychiatric hospitalization under section 5150 of the California welfare and institution code. 

If San Francisco can implement this program, LA can and should explore it, too. It could be a way to finally begin to reduce the number of homeless individuals and families in Los Angeles. It has been determined and known for a long time that a significant number of homeless people are either mentally ill or addicted to drugs and can no longer hold a job or function in society. The utilization of the Conservatorship provisions can serve as a reasonable and humanitarian way of addressing the tragedy of homelessness.

There you have it. While solutions are limited, the San Francisco process is reasonable, legal and should be implemented in Los Angeles as soon as possible.

(Dennis P. Zine is a former and retired LAPD Supervisor, former and retired 12-year Los Angeles City Councilman and current General Manager at Bell Canyon in Ventura County. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)