California is in a homeless crisis

A homeless encampment lines a street in downtown Los Angeles in January.
A homeless encampment lines a street in downtown Los Angeles in January. Associated Press file

More than 25,000 Californians from all walks of life have signed a petition urging Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a statewide emergency on homelessness.

The state Assembly added to the clamor by overwhelmingly passing House Resolution 56. It is time for the state Senate to do the same with Senate Resolution 84.

We find it unconscionable that California – with the sixth-largest economy in the world – has 115,000 men, women and children who are homeless and lack basic human services. It’s a staggering number, enough to fill every seat at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Oracle Arena in Oakland combined.

On any given night in Los Angeles County, 47,000 people live in utter squalor, many of them sleeping on sidewalks and park benches, in cars or under bridges, not only on Skid Row but also in suburban neighborhoods.

In San Francisco, nearly 7,000 people go without a home every night, despite the city spending about $250 million a year on homelessness. There are families, LGBT youths and people in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment all suffering on Bay Area streets. The tent encampments just continue to grow.

It’s a familiar scenario in cities and counties across California. If that’s not a state of emergency, we don’t know what is.

If a wildfire had rendered 115,000 Californians homeless, the governor would have already declared an emergency and released as much as $500 million for crisis housing, rental subsidies and other services. We need to acknowledge the slow-burning fire that is consuming the lives of thousands of Californians.

The magnitude and severity of the homelessness problem in California pose extreme peril to human safety, overwhelming city and county efforts to adequately assist those in need.

It is time to address this critical moral, civil rights and social justice issue with immediate and extraordinary action. The governor must recognize the threat that this humanitarian crisis poses, declare a statewide emergency and take immediate steps to provide decent housing with supportive services to restore dignity and well-being to those who have been caught in the vicious cycle of homelessness for far too long.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County supervisor and can be contacted at

London Breed is a San Francisco City and County supervisor and can be contacted at