November 18, 2019

Controller Galperin on Homeless Crisis: No. 1 Social Crisis in the City

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

“Homelessness is the No. 1 social and humanitarian crisis in the city of Los Angeles right now.”

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin made this pronouncement during a panel discussion on homelessness at Temple Akiba in Culver City on Oct. 21.

Panelists included former homeless resident Emily Martiniuk; United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ Everyone In campaign field organizer Chelsea Byers; L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s field deputy, Matthew Tecle; Culver City Committee on Homelessness member Mark Lipman; and West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation Director of Resident Services Danny Pepper.

Around 150 people turned out to the event, hosted at the synagogue run by Galperin’s husband, Rabbi Zachary Shapiro. Galperin noted that there are around 44,000 people sleeping on Los Angles streets every night and “over the course of the year, there are probably 100,000 people who at one point or another have experienced homelessness.” 

He added that there was a 16% increase in homelessness in the city from 2018 to 2019 and a 12% increase in Los Angeles County over the same period. He then went on to note that 918 homeless people died in the county in 2018 and said that number is expected to rise to 1,000 in 2019.

“How can we in this great nation, in this great city … have a thousand people die on our streets?” he said.

Recent measures dealing with homelessness include the passage of Measure H in March 2017 — the sales tax to fund county housing programs, and the November 2016 passage of Measure HHH — the $1.2 billion bond measure to build supportive housing. Galperin said while these were “great initiatives and great investments, the results are not yet at all obvious.” 

Galperin criticized both the L.A. city and county governments over their handling of the homelessness crisis, saying there is a “lack of accountability due to fractured structures” between the two governments. He added that despite their good intentions, various city and county policies have contributed to the homelessness crisis.

“How can we in this great nation, in this great city … have a thousand people die on our streets?”— Ron Galperin

He said that while regulations are necessary to preserve the environment as well as prevent overdevelopment, regulations have driven up the costs of building new housing. He also argued that rent control contributes to homelessness, saying, “In some cases, [rent control] has provided an incentive for landlords to tear the place down, and you lose some of those affordable units.” 

Martiniuk told attendees how she became homeless and eventually broke the cycle. She suffered severe mental health issues after her youngest son was killed in a bus accident, and she found herself financially strapped not long after the 2008 recession. By 2011, she was homeless. After attempting suicide that year, she was institutionalized for six weeks and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was then placed in Los Angeles County housing for nine months. Martiniuk said the county helped her obtain a housing voucher, which allowed her to get an apartment in Sun Valley, where she now resides.

“We live in the City of Angels,” Martiniuk said. “Imagine what we can do together.”

Byers urged attendees to fight for affordable housing and blamed neighborhood councils for failing to do so.

Galperin said innovative solutions were needed to fix the homelessness crisis, including shared housing and greater collaboration between the city and county governments as well as nonprofit organizations.

“Together, I believe that we can solve much of this problem,” he said. “But we must do so in a thoughtful way and in a way in which we can engage with each other.”