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Homeless shelter along Beacon Street in San Pedro. Photo by Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze/12-10-15

Well, as they say, that escalated quickly.

Recently, a group of community activists filed papers with the City of Los Angeles to recall Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Their casus belli against the mayor, who just a year ago was seen as a potential (if long shot) 2020 Presidential contender, is the explosion of people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles city and county.

I’m doubtful they'll be able to recall the mayor. The campaign is being led by Alexandria Datig, a registered Republican, which is just begging for Garcetti’s machine to frame the effort as a partisan torpedo-job.

But their concerns deserve to be heard.

The evidence is mounting that homelessness is well past a crisis. Current counts pin the number at around 55,000 human beings living on the streets of Los Angeles. US News and World Report cited a Kaiser report that claims that 918 of these people died on the streets last year, many of preventable or treatable causes had they been diverted to the right interventions. 

There are also reports that rats are attracted to these encampments. The vermin can harbor diseases that will only cause more deaths among the vulnerable homeless population and potentially among the more general population.

Day after day, on his radio show on KABC, Dr. Drew Pinsky has been sounding an alarm that these rats and the fleas they bear could spark outbreaks of typhus (as happened in LA City Hall recently) or worse, the Black Plague, a malady thought long since gone and only a subject of books on the Middle Ages.

Mayor Garcetti claimed that the real trash problem was from scofflaw businesses dumping trash on the streets. 

LA’s solution seems to be “build affordable housing” as its sole goal. It's the “Field of Dreams” approach—load up a big shotgun full of money and fire it at developers and construction unions and hope that “if they build it, they will come.”

Voters approved Measure H in 2016, which raised property taxes to fund a bond issue to build 10,000 units of supportive housing in 10 years. This was supplemented with Measure HHH the next year, a county initiative that raised the sales tax for the same goal. 

Unfortunately, trying to solve homelessness with only housing is like trying to bail out the Mississippi River with a Dixie cup. 

Granted, if the 10,000 units are actually ever built, they will be useful for those who have merely fallen on hard times, have nowhere else to go and just need space to find employment and get their life back on track.

But housing won’t help those who need more comprehensive help – those who are mentally ill, for instance.

It’s estimated that 25 to 45 percent of the homeless population suffers from mental illness, substance addiction, or a combination of the two. Unless the housing includes comprehensive treatment for mental illness and/or addictions, it’s little more than warehousing.

It's a bandage over a much more serious wound. 

However, government has never been good at actually addressing root issues. Instead, those in power prefer to declare “war” on a problem, do a half-hearted job, and then pat themselves on the back while trying to sell their hasty patches as a reason to be re-elected.

I fully expect Mayor Garcetti to go down this path.

Maybe he’ll prove me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

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