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Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass Is Trying to Get Homeless People Off the Street Fast

Karen Bass
Karen Bass

LOS ANGELES—As Mayor Karen Bass was delivering the news Thursday that this city’s homeless population rose 10% last year, outreach workers were trying to convince Imani Muhammad to come out of her tent and accept shelter.

“Come on, girl, you’ve been here too long,” one worker said, peering into Muhammad’s tent in a city park in South Los Angeles. Muhammad, 33, was reluctant; her boyfriend was in jail and she worried about how he would find her. Her last experience in a homeless shelter left her with bedbugs and a shaved head. But the outreach workers wouldn’t let up on their pressure until Muhammad finally emerged with the belongings she could carry in two garbage bags.

At a row of shaded folding tables, Muhammad and other encampment residents were assigned city-rented motel rooms and offered assistance finding an apartment, drug and mental health treatment and domestic violence services.

The operation is part of Inside Safe, the mayor’s signature initiative, which started shortly after Bass took office in December. Polls show homelessness ranks as the top concern of Los Angeles residents. It was the primary issue in last year’s mayoral campaign and Bass, a former Democratic congresswoman, has staked her political reputation on successfully addressing it.

“I want Angelenos to see that tents are disappearing and not coming back,” she said in an interview.

Many L.A. residents are cynical about whether political leaders can do anything to fight homelessness, as the problem has grown worse in recent years despite voter-approved tax increases intended to address the issue.

Bass and other local officials released preliminary figures Thursday showing that the number of homeless people in Los Angeles County grew to an estimated 75,518 individuals as of January 2023 from 69,144 in January 2022. Some 70% had no shelter.

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