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Mayor Bass tackles homelessness at conference of mayors in Washington DC

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Mayor Karen Bass focused on her efforts to address Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis in a speech at the United States Conference of Mayors on Thursday, Jan. 19 in Washington D.C.

Bass, who is in the nation’s capital for the conference this week, gave the mayors in attendance a “warning from Los Angeles.”

“Your population of unhoused might not be as massive as 67,000 people, but let me just tell you, if you don’t get a handle on it, it will be,” Bass said.

Bass declared a state of emergency over the city’s homelessness crisis as her first official act. She has since issued a directive aimed at streamlining affordable housing projects and launched a program intended to bring residents of encampments inside.

“The fact that our society has reached a point where we accept people living on the street and living anywhere, it’s like, ‘What has happened to us?”‘ Bass said. “It is completely unacceptable.”

Bass said she left her longtime seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to run for mayor last year because of what she described as the “humanitarian crisis” of homelessness. She saw parallels to the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to mass incarceration.

The mayor said that the homelessness crisis is citywide in Los Angeles, and that affluent areas have “absolutely no tolerance for this.” But she said the solution was not to criminalize the issue.

“You can arrest somebody, you can give them a ticket,” Bass said. “But they are going to be out in a few days, right back on your street and it doesn’t solve the problem.”

Bass applauded efforts by the Biden administration to address homelessness. President Joe Biden has noted a goal of reducing homelessness in the country by 25% by 2025. But she said that unless that is coupled with efforts to address mental health and substance abuse, “I don’t care how much housing you build, we will not solve this problem.”

Bass noted that her efforts were collaborative, “locking arms” with Los Angeles County, the state and federal government.

“We know how to do this, but we have to change our thinking away from the status quo, away from doing things as usual, and view this as a manmade disaster of the 21st century,” Bass said.

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