Building on the state of emergency city leaders declared earlier this week, Mayor Rex Richardson on Thursday said Long Beach will immediately step up its response to homelessness, with a specific focus both on outreach and cleanup in the Downtown area over the next few weeks.

A new “mobile access center,” a van that will bring social services and basic medical care directly to people on the streets, is ready to roll, and a second service van is coming soon, Richardson said. He is also pulling together staff from nearly every city department to collaborate on homeless response, led by the heads of the public works and health departments.

“Our response today, it needs to be compassion-focused, but it also must be about safeguarding public safety and preserving order in our community,” Richardson said at a press conference held at the rear of the Billie Jean King Main Library.

On the other side of the building, a handful of people in cold weather clothes stood around or sat on the pavement amid bags and bundles of their belongings.

City leaders reiterated that last February’s official tally found the number of unhoused people in the city was about 3,300, a 62% increase since the 2020 count. Most of them are living in cars or on the streets, so Richardson said the city will be looking for more safe parking sites as well as seeking places to add more shelter beds to the roughly 1,300 that exist.

The stepped-up efforts will begin around The Promenade, main library and Civic Center, where businesses have threatened to leave and residents have demanded the city address their safety concerns.

Under the emergency declaration, officials said a number of processes will be streamlined, making it faster to get affordable housing approved and sign contracts to help solve the crisis. City rules also have been loosened to allow property owners to increase security and put in “adequate fencing” around vacant lots and buildings, City Manager Tom Modica said.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and public health and safety crisis, so we must approach this threat with as much strategy and urgency as we do with compassion,” Modica said.

Details are not yet clear on some aspects of Richardson’s far-reaching initiative.

The city is seeking to partner with Los Angeles County to create new facilities that would provide mental health and post-hospital recuperative care. City officials also plan to work with local K-12 and higher education institutions to build teacher and student housing. But in both of those cases, costs, funding and exactly what partnerships would look like are unknown.

Some homeless advocates and service providers still hope to see the city do more.

Rev. Jane Gould at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said the state of emergency the council declared is important, but she wants to know more about what concrete steps the city will take.

She supports the new mobile service vans, but she and other advocates will continue to lobby for a second Multi-Service Center in the Downtown. The city’s current Multi-Service Center—which is essentially its headquarters for homeless services—is on the Westside, which can make it a challenge to access, and people seeking help won’t always know where to find a mobile facility, Gould said.

St. Luke’s has been serving the city’s unhoused residents for more than 30 years and would gladly host a second service center, she said—and the new mayor said at a candidate forum last fall that he would support such a move.

“We’ll be reminding him of that commitment,” Gould said. “We need to create a clean, safe Downtown, and if you ignore the needs of the unhoused you’re not going to do that right now.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to provide comment from Rev. Jane Gould at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Locked out: Homelessness in Long Beach