In the past, national leaders working to address homelessness in America looked at Los Angeles's feeble efforts to house its homeless population with disdain. Some of that judgment was justified, given that Los Angeles has the highest number of people experiencing homelessness in the country, and has even been labeled the "homeless capital" of America.
Those of us who call ourselves "Angelenos" would rather have the country think of our fair region as a place with blue skies during the Rose Parade, sprawling beaches, convertibles cruising the Pacific Coast Highway, palm trees silhouetted against gorgeous sunsets, and humongous Beverly Hills mansions filled with the nation's celebrities.
But when most people think of homelessness in this country, they picture L.A.'s Skid Row. This is not the postcard-worthy image that the Chamber of Commerce wants to publicize.
So L.A.'s Chamber, with the leadership of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, formed a business leaders task force to not only provide support in addressing homelessness in the city, but to actually take charge in ending homelessness. They called this plan "Home For Good," and established an ambitious goal of ending chronic and Veteran homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016.
I've been leading a community-based organization that addresses homelessness in Los Angeles for the past 16 years. I've seen three Los Angeles mayors struggle with (and sometimes ignore) the city's problems with homelessness.
I've seen the County bump heads with the City over who should be responsible for addressing homelessness.
I've seen cities pitted against cities in the Greater Los Angeles area, blaming each other for transporting homelessness into their jurisdictions.
In the past decade, I've seen a former County Supervisor anointed as a Homeless Czar, and a State Senator promoting a law to force cities to build shelters and housing. Task Forces and Blue Ribbon Panels have been formed to address homelessness, summits have convened, and millions upon millions of dollars have been earmarked to address homelessness in L.A.
But Los Angeles could never quite shake the reputation that it was allowing people experiencing homelessness to overwhelm its streets, like economic refugees huddled in alleyways and under bridges with nowhere else to go.
Our city was probably the best case study on how NOT to end homelessness: no realistic goals, no accountability, blame everyone else, let everyone do their own thing, and invest as little as possible in solutions.
When musician Randy Newman penned "I Love L.A." for the city's 1984 Olympics theme song, no wonder he had to throw in a line about L.A.'s infamous homelessness problem: "Look at that bum over there, man; He's down on his knees."
But, today, many around the country are seeing a new L.A.
The headline in the New York Times said it all: "L.A. Confronts Homelessness Reputation." The United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce raised $105 million in public and private revenue to strategically house the most vulnerable chronically homeless people on L.A.'s streets. They brought together the County and dozens of its cities to not only provide verbal support, but financial resources and the commitment to work together.
The Home For Good effort did what no other L.A. leader or group had ever been able to do before: create a realistic plan, bring everyone together to implement it, and find the resources to support it.
Now that's what I call loving L.A.
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