A leader of one of several organizations that disrupted a speech Monday by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at USC said the groups wanted to bring awareness to the city’s homelessness problem and other issues while preventing the event from being used as a “political stunt” as the mayor explores higher office.

Garcetti had just started speaking to an audience of about 350 people gathered at USC’s Bovard Auditorium to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when he was repeatedly interrupted by protesters who stood up in the audience and criticized him on housing, gentrification, the 2028 Olympics and homelessness, the Los Angeles Times reported. The mayor left the stage after 20 minutes without giving the speech.

Pete White, co-founder and co-director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said a number of different groups were involved in the disruption, including NOlympics LA, Los Angeles Catholic Worker, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Ground Game Los Angeles.

“We definitely did not want the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be used as a political stunt for a mayor that is seeking higher office,” White told City News Service. “So it was less about protest, more about the mayor being in full recognition that there is so much more that needs to happen in Los Angeles.”

Garcetti’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The mayor has said he is exploring a run for the presidency, but has not officially declared his candidacy.

White said the organizations involved had various reasons for participating in the disruption, but that homelessness was at the top for LA CAN, which is concerned with how funds from Measure HHH are being spent, and some of the parameters of Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” program to build temporary homeless shelters in the city.

In May, a report to the citizen oversight committee for the $1.2 billion Measure HHH bond program to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless concluded that the city could fall about 4,000 units short of the 10,000-unit goal of the program due to the per-unit cost rising above earlier projections. Garcetti was a major backer of Measure HHH, which was approved by voters in 2016.

White said Garcetti supported HHH “without a real plan on how to spend it.”

White also said LA CAN is critical of Garcetti’s bridge housing program, which is dedicating tens of millions of dollars toward building temporary homeless shelters in each City Council district.

The “Bridge Home” program was first announced by Garcetti during his State of the City speech in April as a new front in the fight against homelessness, which has grown by about 75 percent over the last six years. The 2018 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that more than 31,000 people are homeless in the city, including more than 23,000 living without shelter, which were both slight drops from the previous year after years of increases.

“We are here to help people in desperate need get themselves on a bridge that goes in one direction — toward housing and healing,” Garcetti said in September when the first facility for the program opened near the El Pueblo monument downtown. “Angelenos have freed up more resources than ever before to help our homeless neighbors recover from the trauma and poverty that forces them onto the streets. Today, we have one message for the men and women who will soon move into this facility: Welcome home.”

Along with any new temporary shelter would come increased enforcement and clean-up of homeless encampments near the shelter. Garcetti and other city leaders have said the clean-ups would only enforce existing laws against sidewalk encampments.

“At the same time that we have walked back housing, we have walked forward shelters to use for the criminalization of homelessness, in full violation of human rights,” White said.

White and other LA CAN members are frequent attendees of meetings of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and often criticize the department over police shootings are other issues, but Garcetti himself had not been the target of any aggressive protest by any group for quite some time.

Protesters gathered outside Garcetti’s home in Hancock Park in October 2016 following a deadly police shooting, but since that time, he has rarely been the subject of a large protest or any action that shut down a speech, and was easily reelected last year with over 80 percent of the vote.

White would not directly answer if the disruption of Garcetti’s USC speech marked the beginning of a new approach, or was a one-time action.

“We would say that this was an opportunity to engage the mayor, to engage the human rights community, to engage USC, to engage the students and administrators, who often have different perspectives,” White said. “So we thought this was an opportunity to engage all of those folks.”

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