In California, agencies are working to redefine enforcement and safety procedures as the number of homeless individuals who seek refuge in vulnerable open or wild landscapes continue to increase.
The total homeless count in Los Angeles County is 52,765 and 75 percent of the homeless population are unsheltered in LA County. Roughly 40 percent of homeless individuals in Los Angeles are sleeping in encampments or tents. Although Southern California has supported funding for supportive housing via voter initiatives, the number of homeless individuals has only just begun to stabilize and tick down.
One of the more unique issues for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which manages much of the open space and wild landscape of Los Angeles County, is the interaction between public safety, homeless individuals seeking refuge, and ecosystem management. 1
In a panel moderated by TPR Editor-in-Chief David Abel, panelists discussed how state and local agencies are working to redefine enforcement and safety procedures. As the number of homeless individuals in California has risen, safety concerns are elevated both about the individuals and the vulnerable open or wild landscapes they sometimes take refuge within. From fire concerns to issues surrounding sanitation, Armando Hogan of the LA Fire Department, Dominic Choi of the LA Police Department, LA City Park Ranger Albert Torres, and District Superintendent for California State Parks Craig Sap provided insights into how Southern California is tackling the new challenges.
Craig Sap: It all comes down to resources and what resources might come through the state agency those stay with the county or the city. I don’t know if there’s been a session in the state whether it be the MRCA or the Conservancy or State Parks having funding from that. As I understand now it’s not the case.
We’ve always been a resilient Mediterranean climate. At this point we’re getting overwhelmed by the drought. The heat is getting bad even on the coastal areas. We’re feeling the effects of climate change.
As it relates to homelessness, I’d just like to get funding [prop a funds to state parks] if there’s a way that those could come our way that would certainly be a great help to us. We do see the effects in the Santa Susana mountains; we see a lot of homeless encampments developing out there and in the Verdugo mountains. Fortunately there are other parts of the city for daytime operations.
David Jallo (LA County Parks and Recreation Department): Our population of homeless has gone up despite the recent trends. We see about 300 people homeless a day. I’m noticing large numbers of that are people who were recently released from prison. Have you identified funding or mechanism to help deal with these people?
Dominic Choi: That is not a unique situation. It happens every day: Someone who’s unsheltered comes in and claims territory. Sometimes we have tent fires or other crimes because of it.
The bottom line is that the long-term fix for this, regardless of whether it’s parks or open space, is that we need more shelter. We need to be able to place people. That’s a big problem.
We need more permanent supportive housing. We need more temporary housing. We need more mental health facilities for longer-term care. And we have to think about prevention. What’s causing this influx of the unsheltered population? As a state and a nation, we have to fix that.
Right now, in the city of LA, if you wanted everything cleaned up, we could do it. We could get all of Sanitation, all of LAPD, all of Rec and Parks, and clean up all the trash. Guess what’s going to happen two days later? We’re going to have the same stuff. This is not the fix. We’ve got to think longer term.