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'It's nowhere near enough': LA homeless advocates react to mayor's shelter plan

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The push to spread temporary shelters across the city, one in each of L.A.'s 15 council districts, is a good first step but more needs to be done, advocates say.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has a new plan to try to solve the city's homeless crisis. Garcetti would like to spread temporary shelters across the city, placing one in each of L.A.'s 15 council districts. There's also a promise of more enforcement to keep the areas near those shelters clear of homeless encampments. It's an ambitious plan with a $20 million price tag.

Andy Bales is CEO of the Union Rescue Mission. The mayor's proposal is a good first step, Bales said, but more needs to be done. 

 [This plan] is nowhere near what I would hope for, nowhere near what the Urban Land Institute called for. These are experts from all around the country who came and consulted with the leaders of Los Angeles, and it's nowhere near enough for people who are suffering on the streets.

The Urban Land Institute recently recommended that L.A. build 60 shelters across the city, which would be four in each district, not one, Bales said.

A woman pushes her walker past tents housing the homeless in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.
Fredric J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
A woman pushes her walker past tents housing the homeless in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.

However, building shelters in more neighborhoods would be a positive change, he said, because it could be a step to help get more people into shelters and off the streets.

Having a shelter in your own neighborhood to go to when you lose your housing rather than having to go to the mean streets of skid row, that would help immensely. And wouldn't we as neighbors rather say yes to shelter and accountability and care, rather than saying no, not in my backyard? Yes to people being under a roof instead of leaving people on the streets to suffer.

In the past, finding shelter sites has been a challenge around Southern California because many neighborhoods don't want them, so the opinions of residents across L.A. are a potential concern for Garcetti's new plan.

Chris Ko, Director of Homeless Initiatives for United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said his organization's poling shows that L.A. residents actually do support more shelters.

I think people understand that other solutions are just temporary and patchworks. People that we've spoken to, as long as they know that there's a plan and that there's something that is more holistic that will move people inside, that's what our residents are really asking for at the end of the day.

That idea of a more holistic, permanent solution to homelessness is something that should be incorporated into this plan and the shelters being built, Ko said.

What we need to make sure is that every single bed constructed has a connection to permanent housing. We've started calling these solutions bridge housing because we want them to connect to the next step of exiting homelessness. Unless every bed has a connection to a permanent exit, they become bridges to nowhere.

Ko said that means having enough permanent housing to accommodate everyone in shelters later moving to a permanent home.

Supportive services in both shelters and those permanent housing units are another a key component to getting people out of homelessness long term, Bales said.

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