New government-run homeless camp in East Hollywood offers emergency services, but it doesn’t come cheap
Los Angeles has opened its first government-run homeless settlement in a quiet commercial block off the 101 freeway in East Hollywood. It comes a month after Los Angeles officials cleared out what was one of the city’s largest settlements – a makeshift community of nearly 200 tents, an outdoor pantry, and a shower stall that spanned the nearly mile loop around Lake Echo Park, just two miles away.
The new sanctioned campground on Madison Avenue near Beverly Boulevard is a pilot program that is expected to be the first in a series across town. (The federal government already operates a similar site on the West LA Veterans Affairs campus in Brentwood.) This is a new strategy to bring together the tents and paved structures that are currently found in parks, on sidewalks and under the motorway viaducts, while providing services to the homeless.
The idea of providing areas reserved for those not housed for camping, with toilets and access to social services, is not new. But for decades he was politically unpopular and viewed as radical. Now, faced with a burgeoning homelessness crisis and a federal judge demanding urgent action, officials in Los Angeles are embracing the concept. But the high public cost of the program – around $ 2,600 per person per month – worries some advocates who fear it will come at the expense of more permanent housing.
Another concern is that more government-approved campgrounds will mean more policing for those who refuse or cannot enter sites – in the same way that the city recently resumed sweeping camps near shelters, in the same way. pattern that the inhabitants of these areas have somewhere. else to go.
“It cannot be the type of offer that leads to criminalization and the displacement and closure of other public spaces,” said Shayla Myers, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
Mitch O’Farrell, the city council member whose district includes both Echo Park Lake and the new East Hollywood campground, declined an interview. But another board member who plans to open safe campsites, Joe Buscaino, says law enforcement is part of the problem. He wants the city to completely ban camping on sidewalks and in parks. To do this legally, the courts said, city authorities must first come up with alternatives.
“Right now in the city of Los Angeles it’s a free for all,” said Buscaino, who is a former LAPD officer. “You can camp, sleep, lie down anywhere and anywhere you see fit.”
He added, “I connected a lot of people to resources, to housing, and sometimes it was through the reservation process.”
One recent morning, days before the East Hollywood parking lot opened to its first campers, a few unhoused men stood on the sidewalk outside its lattice-covered fence.
“I think it provides a good service to the community,” said one, who gave only his first name, Eugene. “Give people the opportunity to take a shower, take them off the streets and give them a sense of hope and belonging.”
Another man, DJ Woods, agreed. Camping, he said, offers a safer place to sleep than the streets. “And then we’ll be away from all the looky-looers too,” he said. “People who complain and don’t like homelessness for whatever reason.”
Inside the fence, the parking lot that has become a campground can accommodate about 120 people at a time in 12-foot by 12-foot pitches, marked by white squares painted on the asphalt. Campers can bring their own tents and whatever other belongings fit into their allotted space. Half a dozen porta pots stand in a row along one side of the field. The site also offers showers, three meals a day, and a 24-hour security service. Campers entered the county database to match those not housed with social services, known as the Coordinated Entry System.
San Francisco-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy, which operates three similar campgrounds in the Bay Area, has a contract with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency, to manage the East Hollywood site. While campers entering the field will still be without permanent housing, Urban Alchemy CEO Lena Miller says this type of site can be a first step towards that goal.
“They can fall asleep at night, no one will touch them, hurt them, crawl into their tent,” she said. “And then you can start planning: what do I have to do to start getting into a more permanent and secure situation?”
However, it is unclear exactly how campers might transition to permanent accommodation. LA has a well-documented shortage of affordable, subsidized apartments. In general, the county’s coordinated entry system prioritizes people based on a vulnerability index that measures physical and mental health.
Visitors to the East Hollywood site, which Miller says are found through outreach activities in the surrounding area, are likely to have a wide variety of needs and experiences. And unlike West LA VA Secure Campground, this one does not share a campus with various health care facilities, and campers do not have access to a special pool of accommodation rental vouchers like veterans do. eligible.
While a spokesperson for LA Homeless Services Authority says Urban Alchemy’s contract includes “housing-focused case management,” Miller says it’s not his organization’s specialty, and Urban Alchemy s ‘Usually associates with other non-profit organizations for housing navigation.
“We provide a safe community for people, so they aren’t on the streets,” Miller said. “As for getting to the other side, that’s not my way. My way is this part. And that is not easy. “
According to a report by the city’s administrative officer, the cost of the new East Hollywood campground is approximately $ 2,663 per person per month. That’s higher than what a typical one-bedroom apartment in the city rents for, according to the Rent Cafe website. The CAO report did not contain a detailed cost breakdown, but according to city officials, the bulk of the budget is spent on staffing 24/7 and maintaining a staffing ratio. one to 12 employees per client at all times. Urban Alchemy, a workforce development agency, trains and employs long-term ex-offenders. Miller says wages start at around $ 19 an hour and “I fight really hard to try and give my people good wages.”
Some advocates are concerned, however, that even with a proposed $ 1 billion homeless spending plan for this upcoming fiscal year, the city is investing too much in short-term dressings rather than long-term solutions. long term.
“If you can paint lines on a sidewalk for the same cost that you can give someone the rent for an apartment,” Myers said of the Legal Aid Foundation, “I’m afraid our city will choose to paint the lines. than to encourage people to find housing. “
City comptroller Ron Galperin said while the East Hollywood Safe Camping pilot project is expensive, the costs support professional staff trained in case management, as well as the necessary sanitation and security services.
“And let’s be honest,” said Galperin, “when people are on our sidewalks it already costs us money as a city in terms of public safety, police emergency services and fire, d ‘ambulance, sanitation, street services, hospitals, prisons. So doing nothing also costs a lot of money. “
Audits by Galperin have shown that a multi-year effort to build 10,000 new subsidized apartments for former homeless people in the city has been slow and expensive, with a typical project taking three to six years to complete and potentially reaching $ 700,000. per unit in some cases. . One of those projects, a multi-phased apartment complex called Enlightenment Plaza, partly funded by the voter-backed HHH Proposition obligation measure, is expected to develop in the same East Hollywood parking lot where the campsite is now located. .
The developer, a former city redevelopment manager and part of the PATH homeless services organization named John Molloy, is lending the city parking lot for free in the meantime for his secure campsite. At the end of this year, however, he needs it. This is when the land is slated to become a construction site. The first apartments at Enlightenment Plaza are expected to open to residents at the end of 2022.