Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Speakers at a summit on homelessness policy in downtown Los Angeles Thursday urged businesses to take a more active role in ensuring that ongoing efforts to address the rise of homelessness are successful.

The forum, hosted by the Central City Association of Los Angeles, was geared to the business community and included a panel discussion on the causes of the “homeless crisis.”

The event was held as a recent rise in homelessness and encampments throughout the city and in downtown Los Angeles has spurred city and county officials to work together on a comprehensive plan that was released this month, and to each dedicate more funding toward housing and services.

“We as a business community have to make sure that this results in actions that really make it a place in our community and place for everyone that’s a safe and clean place for everyone,” CCA President Carol Schatz said.

Schatz framed the forum by saying that she feels “it’s important to get behind some of the ideological speak, some of the politically correct speech to really look at the issue from points of views that can really help us move towards solutions.”

Martha Saucedo, the association’s chair, noted at that “sometimes the business community is stereotyped as not caring about those that are homeless and just wanting to address this issue by moving the homeless out of the areas where there is commerce.”

However, “nothing is further from the truth,” with members of the business community making up the boards of homeless services providers and taking part in efforts to create more housing, Saucedo said.

Larry Adamson, the president emeritus of the Skid Row homeless services provider Midnight Mission, blamed the rise in homelessness on a pair of court decisions that have allowed those who are homeless to continue living and sleeping on the streets.

The decisions have led to “new squatters” in our community and an “atmosphere on our streets that frankly is intolerable,” he said, and “have been very, very detrimental, frankly, in the overall safety of our streets.”

Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Mike Oreb said the homeless population have become more dangerous due to unintended consequences of Proposition 47, which reduced prison sentences but had unintended consequences, and AB 109, a state law that called for the release of some prisoners to relieve overcrowding in the jails.

While those laws are well-meaning, not enough has been done to ensure that prisoners who are released from prison are met with the needed services, such as detox programs, while the downgrading of drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors under Proposition 47 has made it harder for law enforcement to do their work.

Oreb said the prison reform measure, AB 109, led to the release of “non- violent drug offenders,” which he said is “more of an oxymoron, in my opinion,” onto the streets.

“I think that when the releases occurred, downtown L.A. took the brunt of it, and we started seeing an increase in drug use and the collateral damage associated with narcotics in downtown,” he said.

Oreb said there is now more legislation in the works that the business community should be mindful of, such as SB 786 by Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, that he said would allow any individual to sleep on the street at any time of day or night.

Oreb urged business people to support law enforcement by when encountering such laws, which tends to resonate with the public, but have “no infrastructure provided” to make it work properly in practice.

Randall Hagar, director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association, noted there are “unused tools,” such as Section 5200 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, that are available to members of the public who wants to a report a person they feel is dangerous or “gravely disabled” and needs mental health treatment.

“Most people in Los Angeles will be surprised to know that any individual could petition the director of the mental health department to order an investigation about whether or not a person and their dangerousness,” Hagar said.

“Any person can initiate that. Once someone makes the request, the county is required to investigate it. If they find they are dangerous, they can pull them into court. If the court doesn’t see them, they can issue a pick-up order,” he said.

Members of the public can send a short letter to the mental health department requesting that someone be investigated, he said.

“It would be interesting to see what happens if the department of mental health starts getting a bunch of those,” Hagar said.

Chief James Hellmold of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said the business community should focus on helping to create more housing and services to which law enforcement can refer homeless individuals.

“We need the actual housing to actually place people into. The training that we’re incorporating for our front-line officers is centered on referring them to the appropriate services that they need, and in most cases, at the core of it, is either rehabilitation for substance abuse, but also the housing that’s needed,” he said.

“So, if there is no housing for us to refer them to … then, really … what services are we going to refer those individuals to?”

Because of the lack of services and housing, those who have committed a crime, often minor, and pose “an ongoing nuisance to the community, or creating either a danger to themselves and others they” often end up in jail instead, Hellmold said.

“In order to move away from that type of a system, we need to have alternatives to that traditional way we are dealing with them,” he said.

–City News Service

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