LONG BEACH (CNS) - In his first official act as mayor of Long Beach, Rex Richardson moved forward Wednesday on a plan to declare a citywide state of emergency on homelessness -- mirroring the first step of his fellow newly elected mayor, Karen Bass of Los Angeles.
Richardson, who was inaugurated Tuesday night and announced his emergency plan during his remarks, followed through on Wednesday, asking City Manager Tom Modica to bring the declaration before the City Council at its next meeting, on Jan. 10.
In a letter co-signed by Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, Richardson told Modica, "To be successful, we need our city to be more nimble, bringing more resources faster to those who need it the most. We need every area of the city to be `all in,' with a specific commitment from each of the 9 council members to do their part to welcome services that bring relief to those suffering on our streets.
"Long Beach has long been a leader in serving people experiencing homelessness with compassion, a housing-first service-based approach, and long- term solutions," the letter continued. "But clearly the COVID-19 pandemic, record unemployment during those dark times, and most importantly the lack of housing in all income categories has pushed more and more of Long Beach and regional residents into homelessness."
The new mayor said that last year, the city reported a 62% increase in homelessness, though the number of people placed in shelter and emergency housing solutions grew by 123%.
"But clearly, more must be done," Richardson said.
"Our city, county, and non-profit partners together in Long Beach have over 1,300 emergency and interim housing beds available to those who need our help the most, with over 500 of those shelter beds added in just the past two years," the letter added. "It is clear that, with resources and focus, our community has the compassion and the ability to help get people off the streets."
Richardson said that, going forward, the city will need to coordinate new efforts from the business community, property owners, clergy and educational institutions, in addition to county government, to tackle the "joint challenge" of homelessness.
"We must start by bringing people together with a sense of urgency and purpose," the letter to Modica said. "To that end, we are requesting you to bring the mayor and City Council a declaration of emergency for the first meeting in January to speed our response to homelessness and make it a top priority for our city team."
Meanwhile, the city will also unveil a new homelessness website that will serve as a comprehensive resource, Richardson said.
Bass attended Richardson's inauguration ceremony Tuesday, and he addressed her during his speech -- pledging to work together with her on the crisis.
"I accept your call to lock arms with you and confront our cities' shared challenges," Richardson said to Bass.
"Imagine a moment when two mayors from the two largest cities in the region are aligned on values and working together to get our unhoused neighbors off the street, and chart an equitable recovery for the future of our region. We will turn this vision into reality, with Mayor Karen Bass as our neighbor."
On Wednesday -- in what her office described as a "fundamental change" to Los Angeles' approach to addressing encampments on city streets -- Bass signed an executive directive launching a program that seeks to proactively bring unhoused residents indoors and prevent encampments from returning.
The program, called the Inside Safe Initiative, will work to identify the "highest need encampments" that have a chronic and high demand for services. It would use coordination between various departments and agencies to identify interim housing and eventually permanent housing resources for each person living in the encampments.
In addition, on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support Bass' emergency declaration, calling for representatives of various county departments to attend city leadership meetings regarding the Inside Safe program.
The plan is also expected to include information on funding, and potentially use funds from Measure ULA, which passed in November as a tax that would go toward combating homelessness.