Mayor: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spent time in Venice this week talking about homelessness. Clara Harter

Mayor Eric Garcetti strolled along the strip of tents lining the Boardwalk on Tuesday, vowing to flood the area with services and resources, but painting a bleak picture of the greater homeless crisis.

The Mayor of Tuesday morning was far from his chipper and charismatic self. He was a man worn down by a year of pandemic leadership, weeks of protests outside his front door, a federal lawsuit against the City’s handling of homelessness, and most recently, national criticism over the spiraling situation on the Boardwalk.

This Garcetti had no bright promises or winning grin to share, but offered fistfuls of realism and several tough pills to swallow.

“You will have the same interview two mayors later, three mayors later, four mayors later and homelessness will still be here unless this country get serious about housing. Full stop,” said Garcetti. “You will see violence, mental health, addiction, and everything else unless we provide a true mental health care system.”

In addition to housing costs and mental health care, Garcetti pointed to the foster care system, post-war veteran policies, a sexual violence epidemic, and lack of opportunities for the formerly incarcerated as systemic drivers of homelessness. He argued that these factors are broadly outside the City of LA’s control, but said he would put his “heart and soul” into helping solve issues around homelessness for the rest of his career.

When it comes to the Boardwalk, that means doubling down on the amount of funding and outreach workers dedicated to moving people into housing through the City’s recently launched “Encampment to Home Program”.

“I will be co-leading this operation personally with the council office, with our service providers and anybody else who wants to help,” said Garcetti. “We are showing up with resurged budgets and resurged resources. You can eat this elephant one bite at a time.”

The City’s goal is to offer housing options to 200 individuals and clear the Boardwalk of encampments without using law enforcement officers. The six week project was spearheaded by CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin and officially began on June 28, although it is still awaiting Council’s approval for $5 million in requested funding.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is running a parallel and independent intervention effort, which began two weeks before the City articulated its plan.

Villanueva deployed the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Service Team to the Boardwalk on June 7 and vowed to clear the area by July 4. He said he was intervening in response to the humanitarian crisis on the Boardwalk and pointed blame directly at Bonin and Garcetti for “failing to regulate public space.”

During his Boardwalk visit, Garcetti refrained from engaging in the ongoing war of words over the uncoordinated initiatives.

“I’m not interested in yelling about this,” said Garcetti. “That seems to be the main plan: get out here and blame somebody — blame the Mayor, blame the City, blame the County, blame liberalism, blame conservatism.”

Garcetti also defended the use of temporary housing resources for people living on the Boardwalk. He said people who return to the streets after temporary housing aren’t doing so simply because they are abandoned by the City, but rather because of the complex challenges unhoused individuals face in transitioning to permanent housing.

“It’s complicated to get them to the first step (accepting services), it’s complicated to get them to the second step (housing), and even when they’re in housing there’s no guarantee that people who have trauma and other things, without proper services, without a healthy progressive mental health care system, might not return to homelessness in the coming years,” said Garcetti.

Despite the challenges enumerated, Garcetti said that he would not give up on the Boardwalk’s interventions. He intends on convening the different players working on the City’s program, ensuring they are well resourced, and continuously discussing successes and failures to drill down best practices.

“We will make progress here,” said Garcetti. “But that’s a different conversation than do you want to end homelessness.”

Clara@smdp.com