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Los Angeles plans to double spending on homeless crisis

(Photo: Matthew Woitunski / CC BY-SA 3.0)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just steps from City Hall's main door, a homeless woman sprawls on a cardboard box spread across the lawn, her belongings stuffed into a battered shopping cart beside her. Within a short walk, rows of tents line the streets, creating a makeshift encampment and piles of trash. The sharp tang of urine is unmistakable.

Homelessness is an unavoidable reality in Los Angeles, a long neglected problem that has spread from downtown streets into suburban enclaves. On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city would spend $430 million in the year beginning July 1 on housing and other services to ease what he called a humanitarian crisis.

"Accepting things the way they are is unacceptable," the mayor said.

The announcement came in his annual address to the City Council, a largely sunny speech that highlighted job growth and efforts to build more rail lines, but also acknowledged the desperate need for housing for those trapped on the streets.

Four years ago, there was less than $20 million in the budget for homelessness. Most of the new funding, more than double the amount from the current year, will come from borrowing that was authorized by voters in 2016 to address homelessness.

Garcetti, a Democrat who appears to be exploring a presidential bid in 2020, spent Friday and Saturday visiting voters in Iowa. The speech Monday was laced with barely veiled jabs at the Trump administration, lines that are likely to resurface as tests his appeal in other states.

In Washington, he said, they "define themselves by how they can divide us, and what they can take away from us."

Homelessness has spread across the city despite a healthy economy and low unemployment. Though estimates of the homeless population vary, one report last year said there were more than 34,000 people living on city streets.

The mayor's plan, to be included in his proposed budget, includes investing millions of dollars in trailers and other temporary housing, along with more funding for sanitation crews to clean up the mess.

"Homelessness can't be swept away. We must give people a place to stay," Garcetti said. "We're not going to wash down sidewalks only to see an encampment return a few days later."

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