Left to right: Steve Lopez, LA Times columnist; LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver, Casey Horan, Lamp Community executive director; LA Police Chief William Bratton, and Dr. Marvin Southard, director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.
Far more discerning and reverent types than I in attendance tonight in the LA Times’ Chandler Auditorium for a high-powered panel discussion on Los Angeles’ homeless problem certainly won’t mention that Jeff Johnson, the paper’s publisher, got things started by introducing keynote speaker Mayor Villaraigosa ‚Äî and totally flubbing his last name, finally coming closest to its correct pronounciation on the third try. Maybe the fourth. Antonio stepped up to the lectern and was very forgiving, laughing it off that it wasn’t the first time his name was butchered and it won’t be the last. True, but from the freakin’ top dawg at the Times? Gah!
Sorry… I’m dwelling.
Anyway, what the mayor said about his name can be applied to panels such as tonight’s, moderated by Andr√©s Martinez, the Times’ editorial pages editor: it wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. And in the meantime there are still an estimated 82,000 homeless people on the streets every night. But it’s good they’re talking about it at least, yes? Yes, it is. And pretty much what everyone up on stage talked up as a solution: Mo’ money, and lots of it will be needed. There’s a surprise.
Steve Lopez waxed optimistic about the chances of affecting real change. “I would like to think that this year there‚Äôs a little more momentum. This is a time of great opportunity,” he said.
But it’s gonna take a whole lotta spending money says Lamp Community Executive Director Casey Horan who compared the dollar amounts spent by LA and New York: a paltry $38- $65 million here versus a whopping $700-million plus in the proactive Big Apple. Yikes.
Chief Bratton, who seemed to have either a plant or a very enthusiastic supporter in the back of the full house that clapped loudly everytime he said stuff like “it’s a national disgrace,” and “we‚Äôre not doing them a favor letting them sleep in their own excrement on the sidewalks,” was very gung-ho about New York’s homelessness, which has trended significantly downward from 100,000 in the 1990s to estimated of around 34,000 now.
When asked by Martinez what sense it made to jail the homeless, Sheriff Baca drew applause by agreeing that it made no sense and that that homeless people need to be placed in proper care treatment and LA County Jail is not that place. He pointed to the shelter in Bell that was built as a way they could be diverted from downtown and have their needs attended.
Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver explained his urge to tackle the problem in his city was sustained by the “rage” he felt at both the prevalent “NIMBYism” and in the lack of coordinated services and assistance available to the homeless. Later he apologized for his use of “rage as being “such a rough word.”
Martinez than asked LA County Mental Health Department Director Dr. Marvin Southard what kind of money would be coming from Proposition 63, the measure to expand mental health services that voters passed in the Nov. 2004 election.
“The best news I have is that we received a letter stating that our Services & Supports plan has been approved,” he said. That plan would be fully funded at $250 million, and he’s expecting the first installment of $90 million.
But later, Baca expressed concern over the Prop 63 monies because they hadn’t yet been designated to specific programs and agencies. And who would have the final say over who gets what?
“Ultimately the L.A. County Board of Supervisors,” Southard said.
Towards the end of the discussion selected audience questions were put to the panel. One wondered who should be the champion of this effort to defeat homelessness. Lopez didn’t think there was any one person. “I think every one has to want it,” and he pointed out the exemplary efforts of downtown’s Brady Westwater to connect skidrow dwellers with assistance.
Shriver had a different point of view (as well as an interesting mix of metaphors) about who the white knight is. “It’s Mayor Villaraigosa, full stop. You need someone who‚Äôs going to pound the pavement and he grabbed the bull by the throat and shook it.”
In the end, I think it was a very positive step to see so many honchos in one place focusing on such an important yet oft-overlooked topic. Personally, I would have liked seeing a street-level advocate for the homeless like Ted Hayes take a seat up there and contribute to the dialogue, but that’s coming from a guy who can’t get over a publisher who can’t say the name of the mayor he’s been charged with introducing. Gah!