Throughout her mayoral campaign, a key component of Karen Bass’s pitch to voters was her administration’s plan to address the homelessness crisis in L.A. Bass promised new solutions for the crisis at the front of everyone’s mind and which has been plaguing the city for decades. Bass promised “a bold and aggressive emergency response” with solutions that will be both quick and lasting. This week, Bass completed her first 50 days in office since being sworn in as Los Angeles’ first female mayor, so it’s a great time to look at how she’s delivering on her campaign promise.
Bass announced movement on the crisis quickly—within two weeks of her first day in office, she’d declared a state of emergency on homelessness and signed two executive directives designed to swiftly and effectively lay a foundation for sweeping change throughout the city on the pressing issue. Her first executive directive came on Dec. 16, which was meant to “dramatically reduce the accelerate and lower the cost of affordable housing and temporary housing;” her second executive directive came five days later, launching the (confusingly named) Inside Safe initiative, which is designed to alter the city’s approach to its many homeless encampments.
How It’s Going
The initiative began on Jan. 4 with the sweeping up of tent cities in Hollywood near Cahuenga and the 101, in what had been identified as one of the “highest need encampments.” A week later, Inside Safe descended on Venice and the long-standing encampment with a history spanning over a decade. Though high-impact areas have been targeted, the Inside Safe initiative still has a long way to go, housing 120 people as of January 30 in a city with nearly 42,000 people experiencing homelessness.
Now that these initial moves to address the city’s homelessness crisis have been made, the real question is where Inside Safe will be heading and which encampments it will move toward next, Ask any Angeleno—hell, anyone who’s ever heard of L.A., and they’ll tell you that the heart of the homeless crisis in this city can be found just over a mile from Union Station: Skid Row.
The 54-block area of downtown L.A. has become synonymous with urban issues of homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, and overall human suffering—so why has the area yet to be addressed by the Inside Safe initiative? Surely, it must qualify as one of the “highest need encampments.”
Well, the fact is, not much is known to the public regarding how Inside Safe is selecting the encampments it will be targeting. In fact, LAMag spoke with representatives from several districts within Los Angeles County, and it became clear that they don’t have much of an idea of where they will be next either. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the 8th District, which contains Baldwin Hills, Chesterfield Square, Crenshaw, tells LAMag that his office worked with multiple city agencies in getting just over two dozen people into district housing.
“Working under the leadership of the mayor’s office in tandem with Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System, L.A. Sanitation, and [the Los Angeles Department of Transportation], we were able to use a compassionate approach to house people who had been seeking shelter while completely clearing the sidewalk,” he said. “We are excited to get our unhoused neighbors in our district housing near their networks. Together, we housed 25 of our neighbors who eagerly accepted housing, dispelling the myth that homelessness is a choice.”
This is a positive step for the 8th District and indicates that successes may be found, even if incremental; but as each of these 25 humans is an individual with their own specific obstacles and abilities, getting into housing is the first step in what could be a long road to stability. And winning in inches could ultimately be Inside Safe’s legacy.
But if we want to know Inside Safe’s next major move, like what was seen in Venice, the only real option is to identify areas that need the initiative and wait with bated breath to see if the officials behind Inside Safe, who have been given until the end of March to come up with a solid plan of action, will serve encampments in your L.A. neighborhood.
But we can speculate. The easiest way to go about this is identifying the city’s areas with the highest need. As many Angelenos know, the way to do this is by simply tracking the Metro lines arriving and departing from Union Station. Located just over a mile away from Skid Row, Union Station serves as L.A.’s heart in terms of transport and in this way, it pumps unhoused individuals through the city’s veins all across Southern California. And there is a direct correlation between where Metro lines stop and where the areas of highest need can be found.
Venice, which is an hour and 45-minute bus ride from Union Station if you catch the 33, is a good starting place. But encampments can be found within blocks of Metro stations from Sherman Oaks to Pasadena; anyone looking for these tent cities need only follow a Metro map of L.A. So far, Bass’ Inside Safe initiative has targeted four distinct areas– Venice on Hampton Dr. & Rose Ave. (a 10 minute bus ride from the Metro E Line; also beach-adjacent); Hollywood near Cahuenga (less than half a mile from the Red Line, just 10 stops from Union Station); and most recently, West 87th & Western (a 10 minute ride from the Metro Silver Line) and South Slauson & Culver Blvd. (less than a 15 minute ride from the Metro E Line).
Of course, it’s only natural that public transportation hubs would draw in large groups of people who have found themselves unhoused. It’s a convenient and, generally, safe way to travel across Southern California. And on rough, colder nights it’s a mobile shelter from any number of harmful variables.
So, which areas are the most likely to receive a visit from Mayor Bass’ Inside Safe initiative? No official information regarding the processes and procedures has been released to the public, but smart money says it’ll likely be areas of L.A. that have already been working to address their local homelessness crisis prior to Inside Safe’s launch—i.e. the areas with the infrastructure already in place.
Skid Row is the obvious choice on this front. Over a dozen homeless shelters can be found within a few blocks of the enclave. And over the years it’s seen continuous attempts at outreach by organizations, like the Downtown Women’s Center, which not only aims to get people off of the streets but find them temporary or permanent housing, even offering walk-in services. The center also provides resources like collecting social welfare programs together in a single space making it easy for anyone seeking help to find it in one convenient space rather than bouncing around between different offices all across town.
“The Downtown Women’s Center houses 119 women through its permanent supportive housing program in two residences located in Skid Row. Our daily services and community housing programs support over 5,700 women across L.A. County. We are also excited to add new permanent supportive housing in Van Nuys and North Hollywood in 2023,” Lorena Sanchez, the center’s chief development and communications officer said.
She adds that the 2022 Homeless Count identified 800 unsheltered women in Skid Row. Therefore, 150-200 shelter beds and 500 units of permanent housing to meet the need there, “in a balanced and sustainable way.” Rehousing works most effectively to reduce homelessness when there are five permanent housing units available for every shelter bed, she explains.
Downtown Women’s Center has taken steps in collaboration with the mayor’s office to decide which areas of the city stand to benefit the most to implement their plan of action; they also hosted a delegation to discuss the implementation of the $15 million encampment resolution grant with Bass’s office and Los Angeles County, LAHSA, and multiple housing and other agencies
Looking Toward L.A.’s Future
Over the past three years, COVID changed a lot around the world, but it also made one thing very clear: Congregate homeless shelters were no longer sustainable. Instead of cramped shelters filled with cots, bunk beds or a combination of the two that deprive people of privacy, autonomy, or the ability to stay safe from harm or disease, Mayor Bass, in collaboration with homeless advocacy groups like the Downtown Women’s Center, plans to provide temporary and permanent housing that eliminates these concerns for unhoused individuals.
Programs like the federally funded Project Room Key, which began in 2020, and Inside Safe are both specifically meant to rehouse unhoused individuals—not just provide temporary shelter. With that in mind, it makes sense that the places most prepared to provide housing rather than shelter will see the benefits of Inside Safe the soonest.
Mind you, this is all guesswork. But after Skid Row, if following the strategy of moving in where infrastructure is in place, Inside Safe could move up to Pasadena soon, where Union Station Homeless Services has been coordinating homeless services in the San Gabriel Valley for almost 50 years.
In nearly three months in office, Mayor Bass seems to have put her best foot forward with Inside Safe, targeting high-impact encampments in areas that have been doing the work to house people for years, rather than solely providing temporary congregate shelter–together they have developed programs and policies that not only house Angelenos but provide help for those struggling with addiction, mental illness, unemployment and everything else that can send a person into a life on the streets.
Sweeping four large encampments and providing for at least 120 individuals (and counting) may seem small when compared to the 42,000 currently experiencing homelessness, but these new policies and programs are aimed at providing long-term help. The results of work like this will never happen overnight, but as Amy Turk, the CEO of the Downtown Women’s Center said, “Hypothetically, it’s possible to end homeless in our state within three years.“”
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