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Los Angeles mayor declares homelessness state of emergency

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Tens of thousands of people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles every night, some in tattered tents and others just under ragged blankets in doorways./AFP
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Dec 13, 2022 - 08:15 AM

LOS ANGELES — A state of emergency over spiraling levels of homelessness was declared in Los Angeles on Monday as the new mayor pledged a “seismic shift” for one of the most intractable problems in America’s second biggest city.

Tens of thousands of people sleep rough on Los Angeles streets every night, in an epidemic that shocks many visitors to one of the wealthiest urban areas on the planet.

Mental health problems and substance abuse issues are rife among the population, whose tents and rusting RVs scar the city.

Mayor Karen Bass, who was sworn into office Sunday, used her first full day in the job to declare a state of emergency.

“I will not accept a homelessness crisis that afflicts more than 40,000 individuals and affects every one of us,” she said.

“My mandate is to move Los Angeles in a new direction with an urgent and strategic approach to solving one of our city’s toughest challenges.”

Bass, the first woman to lead the city, signed the declaration in a room designated as the “United Homelessness Response Center,” saying it would unlock tools and powers to “make sure we are using every resource possible.”

“Using the emergency order is our ability to fast-track things,” Bass said, pledging a “seismic shift” in tactics.

Over the coming days, Bass said she would be signing a series of executive orders targeting homelessness, promising an aggressive approach to providing temporary housing by leasing apartments and motel rooms.

Bass, a former US congresswoman, won the mayoral job in a straight fight with wealthy property developer Rick Caruso.

The campaign was dominated by the issue of homelessness, with Caruso blanketing the airwaves with promises of a fix.

The subject dominates civic discourse in a city where grubby figures beg at intersections, or rage at their unseen demons as traffic swerves around them.

Health and addiction problems are compounded by some of the most expensive housing in the United States, in a state and a city where the cost of living is high and taxes are well above the national average.

With Los Angeles set to play host to the Olympic Games in 2028, observers say city officials will be extra keen to rid the sidewalks of the rows of tattered tents that sprawl just yards (meters) from swanky boutiques or multi-million-dollar homes.

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