Karen Bass’ first act after taking the oath of office as Los Angeles’ mayor in December 2022 was to declare a state of emergency on homelessness.

Now, Bass, the first woman to lead the City of Angels, has also set her sights on tackling homelessness at the national level as chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Homelessness. 

This week, the former California congresswoman helped lead a bipartisan group of more than 50 mayors from across the country back to her old stomping grounds on Capitol Hill. 

The mayors — together representing 17 million people — laid out a three-pronged national policy agenda to confront homelessness on the city, state and federal levels. 

“In order to make tangible change in the greatest crisis facing Los Angeles and hundreds of cities across the country, we know we must continue to work in partnership with leaders across the country,” said Bass, who led the convening with the conference president, Hillary Schieve, mayor of Reno, Nevada.

The task force called for more funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program, a federal effort under the Department of Housing and Urban Development that assists low-income, elderly and disabled people with securing housing in the private market.  

The mayors want to lift certain caps and restrictions of project-based vouchers for public housing, which they said would provide cities with greater flexibility to build more affordable housing.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass at a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.Office of Mayor Karen Bass

The mayors also called for more robust housing assistance for military veterans during a news conference Tuesday organized with Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. 

The mayors explained that unintended barriers are preventing unhoused veterans from coming inside. 

For instance, vets are sometimes unable to qualify for housing because of other benefits they receive, the mayors said. They want to ensure that at-risk veterans across the country don’t have to choose between their disability benefits and housing. 

The estimated number of veterans experiencing homelessness has halved since 2010. Still, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a goal to move at least 41,000 unsheltered veterans into permanent housing in 2024. Last year, the VA housed more than 46,000 veterans, including nearly 1,800 in Los Angeles.

Last May, Bass joined VA Secretary Denis McDonough and stakeholders at the West Los Angeles VA campus to celebrate two new housing buildings, part of ongoing development for formerly homeless veterans. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., himself a veteran, co-authored the West Los Angeles Leasing Act legislation with the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which helped facilitate the project. 

“Americans that fought on behalf of our country, the people who have defended us, should never sleep one night outside on our streets,” Bass said this week. “There are solutions to this crisis, so while we’re fighting day-in and day-out to get people off the street, we have to bring the fight here to Washington, D.C., so that we can look at rules and regulations that need to be tossed aside, given the magnitude of the problem that we have today.”

More broadly in Los Angeles, Bass’ administration launched Inside Safe, a comprehensive strategy designed to get people off the streets. The mayor’s Field Intervention Team speaks with unhoused people and then works with outreach experts and multiple government, private and nonprofit partners to help move individuals and families to designated interim housing.

“We will not hide people — instead, we will house people,” she said in her State of the City speech last month. “Inside Safe is our proactive rejection of a status quo that left unhoused Angelenos to wait — and die — outside, in encampments, until permanent housing was built.”

To date, the Bass administration said the initiative has helped about half of the city’s estimated homeless population of 44,000 people. The administration’s goals include efforts to build more permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness.  

Lacey Beaty, the  first female mayor of Beaverton, Oregon, and the youngest at 39, is a U.S. Army veteran of the war in Iraq and said she feels a “duty” to give voice to people experiencing homelessness, particularly fellow service members. 

“Cities are on the front lines of this humanitarian issue,” she told NBC News. “We need help at every level of government. It’s not just a big city issue,” she added, explaining that homelessness is affecting her city of 96,000 people as well as the broader region and state. 

In 2023, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, also a Democrat, declared a state of emergency over housing and homelessness. In January, a homeless man in Beaverton died after lighting a cigarette and accidentally setting himself on fire near a  library. And in nearby Portland, NBC affiliate KGW8 reported that the fire chief shared data indicating that in 2023 some 46 percent of fire-related injuries and 50 percent of deaths were related to homeless individuals.

As mayor, Beaty was instrumental in establishing a year-round shelter in Beaverton. It has a health clinic and behavioral health resources to serve those experiencing homelessness. 

Across the country, Shawyn Patterson-Howard is in her second term as the first female  mayor of Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York City with 71,000 people. 

A trained social worker and immediate past president of the African American Mayors Association, she has worked to house people for decades. 

“Homelessness is happening in major urban, suburban and rural communities. It might look different from city to city and state to state,” she said. “There are homeless encampments, and the hidden homeless sleeping in basements, alleys and their cars, and tripled up with family and friends. But it’s a nationwide crisis.”

The mayors met Monday and Tuesday with several Cabinet secretaries in the Biden administration, as well as a bipartisan group of members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both New York Democrats, and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La.

Last May, the Biden administration launched ALL INside, billed as a first-of-its kind initiative to address unsheltered people across the country. ALL INside is part of a federal strategy to address homelessness that aims to reduce homelessness 25 percent by 2025, and ultimately ensure every person in America has a safe and affordable home.

Federal, state and local partnership is “essential for sustainable, systemic solutions to the homelessness crisis,” said Tom Perez, a White House senior adviser and director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs who attended this week’s meetings with the mayors. In 2023, Bass took Perez on a tour of Skid Row, a section of downtown L.A. where thousands live in tent encampments. 

“People experiencing homelessness confront a wide array of challenges that require unprecedented levels of collaboration at every level of government,” added Perez, who commented via a spokesperson. 

Since Bass took office, Los Angeles has received at least $60 million through HUD to provide housing and supportive services. The mayor and City Council also worked with members of Congress to secure more than $35 million in the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills to improve housing and support programs like Inside Safe.

In her State of the City address, Bass acknowledged the high costs associated with the city’s efforts, but said they were necessary to end the crisis of homelessness. 

“It is far, far more expensive to leave people unhoused on our streets,” she said. “Beyond the human toll, we all pay the cost of the thousands and thousands of fire, paramedic and police calls. The cost of each overdose, of each emergency room visit, of each night in county jail — each of which is a human tragedy.”

Bass thanked President Joe Biden and his administration for “their strong partnership” on the issue and members of Congress who regardless of party are willing to “lock arms” to save lives.

“We must continue this fight to get the job done,” the mayor said. 


Leave A Reply

© 2024 Time Bulletin. All Rights Reserved.