Los Angeles unveils $100 million program to fight surge in homeless population
Homeless person with a sign (Shutterstock)

Los Angeles officials on Tuesday moved to declare the rising problem of homelessness an "emergency" in the city and proposed spending $100 million to provide permanent housing and shelters to help the city's 26,000 indigent.

Mayor Eric Garcetti joined several City Council members in unveiling the plan, which follows an increase in the city's homeless population from just under 23,000 two years ago, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

With a number of luxury residential buildings opening in recent years, especially downtown, some community groups blame gentrification for contributing to the city's skyrocketing rents and worsening homeless problem.

The nation's second-largest city has nearly 18,000 individuals living on the streets, as opposed to shelters. Groups of homeless people dwelling in tents on sidewalks have become an increasingly frequent sight in the city.

Officials in New York, the nation's biggest city, which has a more extensive shelter system, say that last year they had about 3,360 people living unsheltered.

The plan by Los Angeles officials to spend $100 million to provide more permanent housing, shelter beds and other homeless services was introduced to the City Council on Tuesday, a day after Garcetti proposed another $13 million in immediate expenditures to tackle homelessness.

"The city has pushed this problem from neighborhood to neighborhood for too long," Garcetti, a Democrat who is campaigning to attract the 2024 Olympic Games to Los Angeles, told a news conference.

"It has cost us money, and most importantly it's cost us lives," he said of the homelessness problem.

City Council President Herb Wesson said the proposal, which will come up for a vote by the full council within weeks along with a declaration that homelessness in Los Angeles represents an emergency, would make the money available starting in January 2016.

The emergency declaration could allow Los Angeles to receive federal funding to combat the problem, according to Wesson's office.

Garcetti last year pledged to end the problem of homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. Hundreds of other U.S. mayors have made similar pledges under an initiative of President Barack Obama's administration.

Garcetti's office said the $100 million officials have proposed to spend starting next year should be a recurring, annual expenditure.

The city currently spends over $13 million from its general fund for homeless programs, such as winter shelters, housing vouchers and outreach to homeless veterans, said Assistant City Administrative Officer Ben Ceja.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech)