California’s political leaders, academics, activists and experts in homelessness and housing gathered Thursday morning at Town and Gown Ballroom to discuss the pressing issue of homelessness in California.

This conversation comes weeks after Mayor Eric Garcetti met with Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration, to discuss a plan of action to solve the homelessness crisis in California, according to the LA Times. The state’s homeless population represents 27% of people experiencing homelessness in the entire United States.

Recognizing that this cannot be a partisan issue, Mayor Garcetti made his priorities clear to the audience at “Unhoused: Addressing Homelessness in California”.

“Solving homelessness is more important than partisanship,” Garcetti said.

Carson echoed those sentiments, arguing for a focus on bipartisanship over divisive politics.

“We should focus on good policies as opposed to good politics,” he said.

The event’s speakers represented a variety of political ideologies to address the homelessness crisis in California.

“This is not just a social service crisis, but also maybe the civil rights issue of our day. We are talking about real people, not just numbers,” Senator Kevin Murray (ret.), President and CEO of Weingarten Center Association, stressed.

Speakers emphasized the importance of recognizing the critical nature of homelessness and the necessity to treat it like the emergency it is.

Former Governor Gray Davis (D), the Co-Chair of Southern California Leadership Council, explained that in order to properly address homelessness in California, the state must declare it a public emergency.

Governor Davis’s successor and California’s most recent Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, reflected these sentiments.

“Our homeless problem has become a crisis that requires immediate attention,” said Schwarzenegger.

Professor Gary Painter, Director of USC Price Center for Social Innovation and Director of Homelessness Policy Research Institute, identified the housing crisis and systemic racism as key components of the homelessness crisis.

“California is experiencing a shortage of 1.4 million affordable homes,” according to a fact sheet by the Homelessness Policy Research Institute provided to event attendees.

Additionally, the crisis disproportionately affects Black, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Latino people, as stated in the fact sheet.

Amy Turk, the CEO of the Downtown Women’s Center, noted that African American Angelenos are more than four times as likely to experience homelessness.

“Black people have experienced overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, housing segregation and employment discrimination, which have led to their disproportionate representation in the homeless population,” the fact sheet explains.

The overrepresentation of people of color in the homeless population has raised serious questions across partisan lines about how to address the issue. The gravity of the issue itself requires politicians to look beyond their differences and come together for the people, according to Garcetti.

“This is an issue we cannot afford to weaponize,” said Garcetti.

The forum, hosted by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy and USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, offered audience members closer look at the complex dilemma law-makers currently face.