U.S. Mayors Convene in Los Angeles to Address Nationwide Homelessness

Mayor Karen Bass

As homelessness numbers in the United States rise, no state has escaped untouched by the crisis. In an effort to unify problem solving in the face of such a widespread issue, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, founded in 1932, privately convened recently in Los Angeles to open more collaboration and data sharing on their respective methods for combating the issue. VX News presents this excerpt from a public press conference on the meeting, featuring comments from the Mayors of Reno, Houston, Los Angeles, and Riverside. In the press conference, the mayor’s shared their hopefulness on the utility of the meeting, as well as answered questions from the press on California’s new CARE Courts and the future of Mayor Bass’ Inside Safe program.

Mayor Schieve: I'm Hillary Schieve, Mayor of Reno, Nevada. When we come to cities, we do try to have a lot of dialogue with the press. We are here today addressing homelessness, because Los Angeles Mayor Bass is doing a phenomenal job of being our chair on our task force on homelessness

Mayor Bass, we were elated that you said you would take this on. It takes a strong and tough mayor, but also a mayor that understands we must call out failing policies. I've been saying for a long time, along with many of these mayors behind me, that we must acknowledge when our policies are failing. This is exactly what you've done, and I'm incredibly grateful and very proud. 

I think in your first 365 days as mayor, you've done a phenomenal job housing so many people in your city. It is really remarkable. You have set a benchmark to house many people who desperately need it. We have allowed our most vulnerable to die on our streets, and it's completely unacceptable. Housing comes in tandem with what I think is the number one crisis in this country, mental health and addiction. We must start talking about it, and we must be honest about it. I am super grateful to all the mayors and colleagues that are here. 

We have gone to Capitol Hill with our CEO Tom Cochran, and we have just been super fortunate. We talked to House & Senate leadership and said that we need help! Mayors need help. And we need it now. Most people don't realize that funding does not get funneled down to cities, it goes directly to counties and states. We literally have to fight for funding as hard as we possibly can, because we are at Ground Zero. We are using our jails as mental health hospitals, which is completely unacceptable. I always say hospitals are where they fix broken bones, not broken brains. We as mayors have said no more. We are raising the alarm to this incredible crisis. 

Now I will turn it over to Mayor Turner. You have done a phenomenal job working with your homeless population, and you are having a ton of success.


Mayor Turner: Thank you, Mayor Schieve. To all the mayors, and specifics to Mayor Bass, let me let me thank you. She has come in as mayor with the intention to eliminate homelessness, not just reduce it. Eliminating homelessness is a number one priority. There could be no better lead on this task force of the United States Conference of Mayors than her. 

She had been to Houston several times in the last year, once as recently as in July, and we had the opportunity to visit one of our navigation systems in the city of Houston. I cannot applaud you enough as the President. Twenty-nine or thirty encampments have been decommissioned, and let me tell you coming from the city of Houston, that is magnificent. Homelessness is a problem that we can end. I wanted to be a part of this group, because these mayors have boots on the ground and have hands on. If anyone can get the job done, it's mayors. 

I'm pleased to say that I'll be leaving as mayor in about a month and a half from now. But in my term, we have decommissioned 113 homeless camps. We have reduced homelessness in the city of Houston by 65%, and just year alone by 17%. Based on the data, 90% of those individuals, two years after the fact, are still effectively and permanently housed. It takes collaboration from cities, counties, the state, and the federal level. 

However, I do want to specifically thank the United States Conference of Mayors. When I started out eight years ago, I did not know much. But working collaboratively with these mayors, I have learned a great deal. I’ve been able to take what we have learned from gatherings like this, and went back to my respective city. Even if there were things that we were doing okay, we learned to do them better, because we learn best practices from one another. That’s why as I get to segue on, I am just so optimistic. I want to tell the people across this country, we mayors, in working in collaboration with others, will eliminate homelessness. We are tackling this, and it's taking place every single day. Even while I'm here in LA, back in Houston, right now we are decommissioning one of our last largest encampments of about 100 people. Mayor Bass toured this encampment with me. 

Thank you, Mayor Bass. You are a force of nature. When you say it can be done, you make it happen, and you are making it happen right here in LA. Let me just say, “If it's got to get done, call in a mayor.”


Mayor Bass: Thank you so much, Mayor Turner and talk about a force of nature and talk about someone who we will all miss. You know, the wonderful thing about the US Conference of Mayors of which I've been a member for 11 months, is that it is an opportunity for all of us to join together and to learn. I learned about what was happening in Houston, and that you have reduced homelessness by such a large percent. If I am not mistaken, when this encampment is decommissioned, the one that they are working on right now, that will be your last encampment. What a way to leave service!

All of us here understand that solving homelessness is addressing an emergency that has taken place in so many of our cities. When we join together as mayors, we build the national momentum to get this solved. I want to thank our President of the Conference, Reno Mayor, Mayor Schieve, for leading your commitment to build that momentum nationally to confront this crisis. When we come together with a common agenda, we all face the same barriers, we all face the same problems, and many of the policies are out of date and don't work anymore. And so we understand that in order to change the policies, and in order to eliminate the barriers, we have to join together as Mayors. 

The launch of this iteration of the US Conference of Mayors Taskforce on homelessness will seek to develop and push for change and resources that are needed to end homelessness. Mayors are on the ground. Mayors are first responders, and we bear the responsibility to make sure that no one in the US is left without housing, support services, and left to live and die on our streets. We know if we join forces, again, we can identify the barriers that we all face, we can eliminate those barriers in the United States, the world's richest country in the history of the world. We must have the perspective that it is unacceptable for people to be on our streets, and unacceptable for people not to be provided with basic housing, healthcare, education, and food. Joining together with the US Conference of Mayors, it's an honor to work with all of you. It's an honor to come together and to share stories, because we all learn from each other. We take what we learned back to our cities. This is the way we're going to resolve this crisis. 


Mayor Bass: We now can open it up for a few questions.


Question 1: Governor Newsom’s CARE Court plan began just a few weeks ago here in Los Angeles County. How significant of an impact do you feel these Courts can have on our unhoused crisis? How soon will we begin to start seeing results? 

Mayor Bass: The 13 largest cities in California, all meet regularly. We were all in favor of CARE Court and look forward to it coming online. CARE Court is the ability to have somebody go into conservatorship, so that we no longer subject people who are clearly unable to take care of themselves to die on the street. We understand however that that alone is not going to be sufficient if you don't have anywhere for them to go. And so, in March, we will have two ballot propositions that should enable CARE courts to build the type of facilities that are needed so people will have housing. The second ballot initiative will loosen the restrictions on Proposition 63, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars to the state every year, but a lot of counties can't access it because of the restrictions. 

Do any of the other mayors from California want to add to this?

Mayor Lock Dawson: We were the first county to launch CARE Court in the state. There are only seven counties that are launching it, and I think LA is coming along as well. The first day we launched it, a person filed and I think within the first month we had 23 people file for it. While that may seem low to some, I actually was very surprised that it was that many, and that they were referrals for mental health care workers, and the majority of them were from families. For me, this is the important part of this because it gives families hope for their loved ones who are out on the street, who are panicked about their survival. 


Question 2: ..What’s the next step after the Inside SAFE program. …What can you do to get these people in affordable housing to have a Housing First program, because you have 80,000 people I think in hotel rooms and temporary shelters, they won't be able to stay there forever.

Mayor Bass: Inside safe, by the end of the year, will probably be at 2000. We don't have 80,000. We’ve housed 18,000 people this year through a variety of different ways. But let me just say that one of the things I feel confident about is that if we had enough motel rooms, we could significantly reduce street homelessness, and I mean, above 80%. But that model that we're using right now, long term, is not financially sustainable. 

You asked me what the next steps are. Our next steps are to do master leasing of motels, which dramatically reduce the rates to purchase motels. There are also a variety of other ways that we need to house people as well. We're fortunate that our governor has provided us with 500 units of interim housing. We don't have them yet, but we will be building those units that we'll be able to come on right away. Additionally, so many of the policies that we've put in place this year have provided for the fast tracking of housing. They were due to come online in two or three years but will actually come online much quicker. We should be able to get many more people housed next year. 

I'm going to tell you however, I have a fear, and I think a lot of the other mayors do too, that as the COVID dollars and protections have gone away, I am worried that in LA and many other cities, we're going to face a series of evictions. We know in the courts, a month and a half ago, 30,000 Angelenos were facing eviction. That doesn't mean that they're all going to wind up on the street, but it does mean that we must have robust prevention programs, which we are establishing here. I would imagine that many of you are concerned that we're going to be facing evictions. Even though we're doing everything we can, we must figure out a comprehensive method of preventing homelessness. Thank you very much. 

“When we join together as mayors, we build the national momentum to get this solved … we all face the same barriers, we all face the same problems, and many of the policies are out of date and don't work anymore.” - Mayor Bass