LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) – The mayor of Los Angeles was among several state officials Wednesday praising a plan by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to lower the legal bar for providing forced treatment to the mentally ill and building more homeless shelters.
Newsom took the unusual step of devoting most of his second State of the State address to the intertwined issues of homelessness and housing.
In his speech, the governor proposed lowering the threshold for conservatorships for those with mental illnesses, particularly for those experiencing homelessness who turn down medical aid. He says California must act while still respecting civil liberties.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called Newsom’s proposal an “extraordinary step.”
“Our humanity cries out for everyone in California to answer the call to end this crisis. The plan we heard today is an extraordinary step in that direction, and it’s on all of us to do the work of making it real in people’s lives,” said Garcetti.
At least one advocate for the homeless agrees. Anthony Bales of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles says living on the streets for even a week can do significant mental damage. For those battling drug addiction it can be even worse, which is why authorities need more power to help.
“It’s a last ditch effort to try and save the life of someone,” Bales said. “But my feeling is we are leaving so many people on the streets for so long that far too many people are reaching this state of mental health crisis.”
Mentally ill homeless people who are left without treatment can pose a risk to others. In 2018, a man was stabbed to death while eating dinner with his daughter in Ventura. On Wednesday, a Reddit post showed a random attack by a homeless person near the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown L.A.
Michael Walsh, who posted the attack, said a man who appeared to be on drugs charged at a woman walking down the street. He jumped between them to protect the woman.
“He was completely out of his mind trying to go after her,” Walsh said.
While homeless populations in most states have declined recently, California’s jumped 16% last year.
Black Californians comprise 8 percent of Los Angeles County’s population, but 42 percent of its homeless, according to Newsom. The governor also cited a recent poll that found that nearly half of Latinos in the state are afraid that they or a family member could become homeless.
“Homelessness impacts everyone, but not equally. Some communities have been hit much harder. Urban renewal and gentrification broke up communities of color and throttled their abilities to move into the middle class. These are systemic issues rooted in poverty and racial discrimination,” said Newsom.
After issuing an executive order last month that deployed emergency housing trailers to Los Angeles County and Oakland, Newsom announced more trailers are headed to Riverside and several other counties statewide.
The homelessness proposal came just hours after a visit by President Donald Trump to Southern California in which he said residents are fed up with homelessness and his administration would be “doing something” about it.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)