July 22, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Santa Monica Mayor Joins Karen Bass in Urgent Talks on Homelessness Crisis

City Leaders Lobby Federal Lawmakers for Solutions During Washington DC Visit

Santa Monica Mayor Phil Brock joined Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass this week in her junket to Washington, D.C., with 47 mayors from all regions of the US. The goal was to engage federal lawmakers personally in urgent conversation to request assistance with the crisis of homelessness in our region and other areas of the US.

Only Karen Bass could have pulled off this extraordinary “meeting of the minds.” With her unique experience as a member of Congress from 2011 to 2022, and then being elected as LA’s Mayor in 2022, Bass worked with the United States Conference of Mayors and its President, Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno, NV, to form this team of dynamic US mayors who lobbied lawmakers for help with our homeless population. She is forging a link between the White House, Congress, and Municipal Governments.

Bass personally invited Brock to take part in her journey to our nation’s capital. The homelessness problem is especially dire in cities with moderate climates, such as Santa Monica and its neighbor, Los Angeles. Brock and Bass had previously discussed potential strategies to ease the number of homeless people on the streets of their respective cities.

The main talking points of the meetings were affordable housing, housing vouchers, and US Veteran housing. Currently, veterans’ housing vouchers are tied to their benefit funds, and many receive a benefit total that puts them over the limit to receive housing vouchers. Many are receiving benefits for daily needs, but are still on the street. The solution is to cut the link between veteran’s benefits and housing. Brock, in addition, made a strong point for assistance with mental health care and addiction remediation.

The mayors were divided into groups for face-to-face meetings with as many members of Congress and of the Biden Administration as possible. Over the course of two whirlwind days, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., they walked, sometimes ran, between offices at the Executive Office Building at the White House and at the Capital and its auxiliary office buildings.

Some of the more memorable exchanges with legislative leaders were with Tom Perez, Senior Advisor to President Biden, who said that they have housed almost 87K vets in the past few years, and their goal when a homeless vet is found, is to get them housed that night. Brock pointed out that on any given night there are probably 90 to 100 vets living on Santa Monica’s streets. Perez did a tour of Skid Row with Mayor Bass last year, so he knows the dire situation in our region.

Shalanda Young, Director of the Administration’s Office of Management and Budget, touched on the aging out of foster care youth at 18, without preparation or accommodations for living on their own. The point was raised that foster care should be extended to age 25.

US Rep Linda Sanchez (D-CA) discussed housing vouchers, low-income housing tax credits, and making affordable housing apartments look like market-rate apartments.

Javier Becerra, Secretary of the US Department of Health & Human Services, noted that in order to get money from the administration or from Congress, we must provide proof of improvement from funds used. Brock told him about Santa Monica’s outsized burden of homeless population due to its beaches, and that there is not just a housing crisis but a mental health crisis. Mental health services and supportive housing are needed. Becerra suggested to keep publicizing this and asking for money through Congress, for funds to go directly to cities, not to counties. Becerra noted that he and his staff are aware that cities need help.

Representative Rosa de Lauro (D-CT) Ranking Member of the House Committee on Appropriations, told the mayors, “This institution responds to external pressure! Keep doing it…Raise the decibel level on the solutions that are out there!”

Representative Mike Levin (D-CA) Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity & Veterans Affairs, listed some of the roadblocks in getting funding for veterans and housing vouchers. He said that there are many in Congress who see housing as a “Blue State Challenge.” Mayor Bass told the group, “Every day I find another barrier. Then I play Wack-a-Mole on them and deal with them one at a time.”

Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has worked closely with Mayor Bass in the past on helping foster youth. He says the cooperation of governors, mayors, and local housing authorities is very important, and “mayors are golden in terms of informing representatives.” Large corporations are buying up housing. He’s working on a solution.

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) Member, House Committee on the Judiciary, has “been at this for 25 years” and “has never seen a more contentious time in our government.” He wants to work to remove barriers to housing vouchers and Section 8. He said, “Count me in to do everything I can to help!”

Mayor Bass noted there would be callousness from some other members of Congress. She emphasized that we need to record and report our successes and that Homelessness is not Hopelessness.

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