Mayor Bass visits UCLA Law to discuss philanthropic responses to homelessness

April 29, 2024
From left: Rose Chan Loui, Kevin Murray, Mayor Bass, Jill Horwitz, Michael Waterstone and Ellen Aprill.
From left: Rose Chan Loui, Kevin Murray, Mayor Bass, Jill Horwitz, Michael Waterstone and Ellen Aprill.

People from across the UCLA School of Law community welcomed Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass to the law school on April 12 for a high-level forum on the key role that philanthropic enterprises can play in solving the homelessness crisis.

The event, “Philanthropy, Business, Government and the Homelessness Crisis,” was presented by UCLA Law’s Lowell Milken Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofits, which was established as a center in 2023 with a mission “to enhance the understanding of the philanthropy and nonprofit sector and to support it through leading-edge education, leadership, and research.”

Law school students, staff and faculty joined others from all over campus and the city – including members of the recently formed UCLA Unhoused Task Force – to participate in a program that featured a conversation between Mayor Bass and retired California state senator Kevin Murray. He is the president and CEO of the Weingart Center, a nonprofit that provides interim housing and comprehensive services and is developing permanent supportive housing projects throughout the city, including one that recently opened near UCLA, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles. The two leaders frequently returned to that endeavor as an example of the public-nonprofit collaboration that the event was aiming to spotlight.

UCLA Law dean Michael Waterstone and leaders of the center opened the discussion by emphasizing the law school’s commitment to advancing scholarship in nonprofits and the connection between that drive and the city’s efforts to curb homelessness.

“The nonprofit sector is critical to human flourishing: It comprises organizations ranging from the very smallest book club to major hospital systems and universities. Given its vast influence over our lives, it’s critical to understand how the sector operates,” said Professor Jill Horwitz, a leading authority on charitable nonprofits, who is the center’s founding faculty director. “The center is already an important site of research, education and thought leadership.” She continued, “Mayor Bass and Sen. Murray [are here to talk] about a problem that’s unfortunately very close to home: the large population of Angelenos without housing. It’s a problem that can’t be solved without the cooperation of government and nonprofit organizations.”

Rose Chan Loui is the center’s founding executive director and a longtime leader in community-engaged nonprofits. She is a member of the board of the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, which boosts programs that are aimed at preventing homelessness. “Mayor Bass took office as mayor of Los Angeles in December 2022, whereupon she immediately declared a state of emergency in the city and committed to a goal of housing 15,000 Los Angelenos by the end of her first year in office,” Chan Loui said. “Mayor Bass and Sen. Murray [agreed] to engage in conversation with us about Mayor Bass’s efforts to meet that goal … and perhaps also about how we can all be part of the solution.”

“You have to address the problem comprehensively, there’s no little solution here ... one of the first things that we have to figure out how to do is to prevent people from becoming unhoused to begin with.”

Mayor Karen Bass

Bass and Murray detailed several responses to homelessness that they have implemented while the magnitude of the issue has ballooned. “You have to address the problem comprehensively, there’s no little solution here,” Bass said, in stressing the complexity of the problem. For example, “one of the first things that we have to figure out how to do is to prevent people from becoming unhoused to begin with. … [But] there is no model to prevent homelessness.”

Another intervention that she and Murray discussed was building affordable long-term housing, including on public lands. But that, she added, brings other challenges. “I don’t want to force things in neighborhoods because that will create ferocious NIMBYism and unending lawsuits,” Bass said. She detailed how the city is working together with people living in neighborhoods so that they welcome new housing for people in need. “We need an all-hands-on-deck situation here. All of you can help educate the people in your neighborhoods that the world is not going to end if you build affordable housing.”

Murray said that collaboration – between the city and the nonprofit, and between those entities and neighbors – is key. “If you go and talk to [neighbors], you can usually get a majority of them to support what you’re doing,” he said. “But what you have to do is, you have to promise people that you will manage it well. You have to promise people that there won’t be tents out in front of the building. You have to promise people that there’ll be active services.”

Murray also underscored the importance of “livability” in the units that are built for homeless people. “You’ve got to make it such that they want to stay there,” he said.

Considering all of the factors and individuals involved, Murray said, “We have to define what a ‘win’ is” – be it simply moving people off the streets or doing that in addition to helping them get affordable housing and providing them with resources such as medical care.

Ultimately, Bass encouraged the students and others in the audience to help in the work that she and her nonprofit partners are doing together to address homelessness – a massive effort that balances immediate action to get people off the streets while building sustainable programs that adjust to avoid unintended consequences. “This problem is solvable,” Bass said. “Every single person here has skin in the game.”

The Lowell Milken Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofits will present its next public event online on June 6, as part of a series, “The Modern C-Suite,” that is produced by the law school’s executive education program. The center’s panel presentation features distinguished nonprofit professionals and shines a light on the biggest challenges that nonprofit leaders face today.

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