Elected Officials Taking Essential Steps to Address Humanitarian Crisis
Leadership involves taking a stand when there may be a risk. We look to leaders to show us the way forward when there is a crisis. I am looking around and seeing quite a bit of this lately with respect to our homeless crisis. And for this, I am grateful.
Every day I walk seven blocks to my car along Hollywood Blvd., and my heart breaks as I see people bedding down for the night or sitting against a wall looking a bit dazed and hungry. Though there are people who at some time or another could be characterized as shelter-resistant homeless, there are people who want to come inside. And here in Hollywood, we have nothing to offer them. The nearest adult shelter is in Skid Row, and understandably, people do not want to land there.
Three years ago, the Hollywood shelter we did have – a 65-bed facility off Sunset Blvd. operated by People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) – closed. From the day it opened in 2005 until 2016, if we encountered someone who truly wanted to get off the street, we could locate a bed for them.
During the last homeless count on January 25, 2018, one of our Hollywood BID board members and two staff walked up and down the streets of the census tract (#190700) within which the BID office is located. Over the course of two hours, they counted 52 people sleeping on the street (these were not tents or encampments). That night, in the 25 census tracts in a two mile radius of the police station (which was the headquarters for the count) there were hundreds and hundreds more. The official homeless tally for the city and county is expected in about one month.
Because of this crisis, which has been worsening over the past several years, voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly supported taxing themselves to support supportive housing construction (in LA City) and services (in LA County). Measure HHH (the city’s $1.2B homeless housing bond issue approved in November 2016) will take years to be fully actualized. Measure H (the county ¼ cent sales tax increase that went into effect July 1, 2017), is funding, among other services, outreach teams that have few options to present to people who are willing to come off the street.
So last week, Mayor Garcetti, in his State of the City address, pledged setting aside $20M in the city budget to create shelter beds to house 1,500 people. The money would be divided equally among the city’s 15 city council district. Though this represents a departure from the traditional approach of “housing first” (meaning moving directly from the streets to an apartment), in the wake of what has become nothing short of a humanitarian crisis, this is a prudent and necessary step to take.
Our councilmember, Mitch O’Farrell, became one of the first to step out and support the mayor’s proposal. He reported this past weekend, “Homelessness is the #1 issue folks raise when contacting my office, and it is the defining issue of our time for this city.” Here in the BID, we echo this sentiment. The calls into our office and into the BID Patrol are a daily occurrence.
The councilmember took the initiative to identify a site for a temporary shelter on city-owned land that could be put into service fairly quickly. This would be an interim solution while he, working with other city departments, looks for a site for a permanent facility which could be funded through HHH funds. The interim site that has been identified is within the very census tract described above, and is the city parking lot that is located at 1533 Schrader.
One of the benefits of accepting the Mayor’s pledge for temporary shelter resources means that this community will also benefit from an increase in city services related to sanitation clean up and storage. Access to these services will also help to mitigate against the tents and encampments that exist in the community because now there will be an option for people.
Who will take advantage of this temporary shelter option? Consulting with those who have been reaching out to the encampments and talking to those who are living unsheltered here in Hollywood, there are a couple current stories from the BID that underscore how important this shelter would be.
- L. is a 24-year old woman living in a tent on Carlos. She has a job at a donut store at City Walk. She has to be at work at 4 a.m. and takes the last Red Line to get there (which leaves at 12:50 a.m. or 1:10 a.m.). If she could come inside, she could get enough sleep to keep this job and it would be easier for her to tend to her hygiene and prepare for work.
- M. is a 61-year old male, a cancer survivor, who is now experiencing health complications associated with colon and liver disease. He needs to be off the street for the good of his health.
- J. is a 72-year old male suffering from bad circulation, possibly cellulitis in his legs. He needs a safe place to regroup and may be interested in being reunited with his family in Texas.
- In his mid-30’s, J. lives on various bus benches. He is sociable but could benefit from the stability of the shelter to open up and connect with others who could help him.
Visitors who come to Hollywood right now are shocked at what they see on our streets. How can a community which celebrates dreams and glamour coexist with people bedding down on the Walk of Fame? There is much work to be done to address the housing crisis and the social service needs of LA City’s 34,000-person homeless crisis. Hollywood can do its small part to provide a “bridge to home” for those who seek our help.
The council office will be holding a community open house to share details of the plan in the works and hear feedback. We will keep you apprised of the details.
Kerry Morrison is the founder and project director of Heart Forward LA. She is the former executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance and served as a Mayoral appointee to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).