City Council to vote next week on homelessness state of emergency

The Long Beach City Council will decide at its first meeting of 2023 whether to declare a state of emergency over the city’s growing homeless population.

An agenda posted last week for the Jan. 10 City Council meeting includes a declaration that, if passed, would expand some of the powers of the city manager to enter into contracts, pursue grants and obtain emergency funding from state and federal entities to help get more people housed.

Last month, newly installed Mayor Rex Richardson and Councilmember Mary Zendejas called for the city manager to draft a declaration for the council to consider in the new year.

The declaration also calls on Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature to declare a state of emergency and to direct resources to Long Beach and other cities that are trying to help their homeless populations.

Long Beach’s homeless population increased by 62% from 2020, the last year the city did a point-in-time count due to the pandemic. This year’s count, conducted in February, found 3,300 people living in some state of homelessness in the city, with over 2,000 being unsheltered.

City Manager Tom Modica said in a letter to the council about the state of emergency declaration that 101 unhoused people died in Long Beach in 2022. Their average age was 47, and over 75% of those deaths were not from natural causes, according to the letter.

In total, homelessness in Long Beach has grown by 77% since 2017, outpacing the city’s efforts to build shelter capacity and for more affordable housing options to come online.

Housing affordability in the state has been tied to the homeless population’s growth in recent years, and Modica’s letter cites expiring protections for renters that barred evictions during the statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration as a reason to declare a local emergency on homelessness.

The statewide emergency declaration for COVID-19, which provided cities with monetary help to keep people housed, and countywide protections for renters both expire in February, requiring “immediate action in order to create replacement and additional housing and shelter,” according to the declaration.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Long Beach received over $70 million in state and federal rental assistance, which it distributed to landlords who were owed money from renters who missed payments.

The city also set up an emergency rental assistance program, which over 34,000 people registered for. But just 8,708 payments were made, underscoring the need and the potential number of people who could be eligible for eviction when renter protections expire.

Long Beach has about 1,300 shelter beds and is projecting it will have 15,346 supportive and affordable housing units online “soon,” but just 1,546 units have been completed and 319 are under construction. Another 500 units are in pre-development, according to the city.

If the council does adopt the emergency declaration, it would last for six months but be reviewed every 14 days, according to Modica’s letter.

Some things that would be analyzed to determine if the state of emergency should end include the number of people who have been placed into housing, the number of temporary and permanent housing units built, a decrease in the number of unhoused people dying and a decrease in the number of people falling into homelessness.

The city is expected to complete the 2023 homeless count on Jan. 26. Residents wanting to volunteer to conduct the count can register here.

Homelessness increased by 62% in Long Beach since 2020

Long Beach may declare a state of emergency over homelessness; here’s what that could mean

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