We Asked Angelenos How They'd Solve The Homelessness Crisis. Here's Their Wish List
The homelessness crisis plaguing the region will be a huge issue for voters in next year’s elections.
During the first annual Winter Wonderland holiday event on Dec. 18 in downtown Los Angeles, I stopped by to take part in the festivities and to ask people whether they felt progress has been made in the homelessness crisis and what they’d like to see on their wish list for next year.
Denai Ramos, 27, was watching her kids play in a snow pit when I asked how she thought elected officials can care for unhoused residents.
“The one wish I have is that they find houses for them, build houses for them. I know some of them suffer from mental issues and not all of them are just strung out on drugs. Some of them are needing help and I don't see that happening,” Ramos said.
Ramos said she knows land is at a premium, but that’s no excuse.
“It's hard. But I'm pretty sure if they really wanted to they would,” she said.
Ramos suggested that city officials and councilmembers such as Kevin de León, who represents the downtown area and chairs the City Council’s Homeless and Poverty Committee, could look into fundraisers to help people experiencing homelessness in the immediate area, but the brunt of those efforts shouldn’t fall on working-class people.
“Working class are barely making it paycheck to paycheck and I should know. But there are rich people here. There are people who do blogs. How about asking them? Actually help solve the issue. Don’t just make Instagram posts,” Ramos said.
De León, who sponsored the Winter Wonderland event in his district, said he understands Angelenos who are feeling hopeless about leaders who spend “more time studying homelessness than solving it” and to fix things “everything is on the table.”
I refuse to wait on permanent housing while my constituents live and die on the streets of Los Angeles.
He cited a tiny home village in Highland Park that provides 227 beds for people experiencing homelessness as a sign of progress, along with A Way Home, an initiative he led to build 25,000 housing units for unhoused people by 2025.
“I refuse to wait on permanent housing while my constituents live and die on the streets of Los Angeles,” de León said in a phone interview.
Robert Lobo, who was at the Winter Wonderland with his wife and two children, has lived downtown for 10 years. They both agree that more housing needs to be built and the city should be utilizing empty buildings and other vacant lots in the meantime.
Lobo said rallying owners downtown to offer their buildings for housing might be difficult but they see it as a temporary necessity to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets.
“It shouldn’t be focused just downtown though. It’s a crisis so you gotta do whatever you can at this point in time,” Lobo said.
Lobo said they’ve supported measures to increase funding for homelessness like Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure approved by voters in 2016 to build more supportive housing, and Measure H, a sales tax to fund homeless services approved by voters in 2017, but don’t feel the money is making a dent in homelessness.
“I know it's early on in the cycle so the hope is that over the years it will get better. If we had to put more money into it then we kinda have to. The question is how effective is it? It's about effective policy as it is about putting money into it,” Lobo said.
One of those empty plots of land that could be used for temporary housing will be the future home of the 1st and Broadway Civic Center Park Project. The city of Los Angeles project includes construction of a nearly two-acre park that will accommodate various programs, events and activities and will include a new building for retail and restaurant use. Construction was supposed to begin in late 2019 and conclude by fall of 2021.
A spokesperson for the L.A. Dept. of Recreation and Parks said the park project is happening and cited the pandemic as the reason for delays as priorities shifted. They couldn’t provide an updated timeline for when construction will begin. Councilmember de León said resources haven’t come together for the project to get off the ground.
“In the interim period I think that we should be moving quickly to create tiny homes on that plot of land,” he said. “I think we can fit a lot of folks… as an interim short-term solution until we can put them into permanent housing, but we should be utilizing that area across from City Hall and we should do so quickly.”
De León said he thinks they can fit more than 227 beds at the 1st and Broadway location which currently has an encampment surrounding it. He added he was able to get the tiny home village in Highland Park up and running within three months.
Unhoused people who live downtown also shared similar sentiments when I caught up with them a couple days later. Jose Leon, a 65-year-old unhoused man, said he’s been living on the streets since 2012 and desperately wants the housing crisis to be addressed.
“I’m sick and I have all these illnesses,” Leon said. “I fill out applications everywhere, but no response.”
Leon said he thinks Project Roomkey, a joint effort by the state, county and city of Los Angeles to secure hotel and motel rooms for unhoused people, was a great idea and makes a huge difference.
“But they need to step up their game a little more,” he said of the program, which is only funded for now through the end of March 2022. “It moves too slow.”
Linda Gibson, an unhoused woman downtown, also said housing should be a priority.
“Give more housing to the homeless so we can get back on our feet as well,” Gibson said. “In DTLA, there is nowhere to put the homeless…they need to build homes and apartments that are reasonable because L.A. rents are sky high.”
Gibson said she believes the pandemic is what has slowed everything down, echoing Leon’s sentiments about things moving too slow.
More affordable housing is coming to downtown Los Angeles. The newly renovated Cecil Hotel, a joint effort from Simon Baron Development and the Skid Row Housing Trust, will provide housing to 600 low-income residents. The project was privately funded, will be 100% affordable housing and provide on-site case management. Councilmember de León said the rooms will free up interim bridge housing for people currently on the streets.
Unhoused people currently living in Project Roomkey locations for at least 90 days will be able to use emergency vouchers at the Cecil Hotel. But there’s worry some could be excluded due to stipulations on the square footage of the unit the voucher can apply to, creating potential barriers for unhoused people looking for permanent housing.