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Housing and Homelessness

LA Mayoral Candidates Want More Group Shelters, But Research Reveals It's Not A Popular Option Among The Unhoused

A white warehouse-like facility with a bridge and a brown fence.
Bridge Home shelters in LA offer cubicles in an open space for unhoused people to temporarily live and come with wraparound services.
(Ethan Ward
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L.A. mayoral candidates are pushing to build more group shelters for unhoused people, but new research released Wednesday from the nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation found that less than a third of unhoused people would accept them.

The report, Recent Trends Among The Unsheltered In Three Los Angeles Neighborhoods, revealed the types of barriers that prevent people who are living on the streets from moving into housing.

Eighty percent of unhoused people in LA would prefer a private room, such as a motel, the report says. This contrasts with the politicians' proposals, explained Jason Ward, associate director of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in LA and the study’s lead writer.

“It’s interesting because it seems like it’s implied to be a big part of most of the strategy by the City Council, mayoral candidates and others and it doesn't appear from our research that rapidly expanding shelter capacity would do a whole lot to really make a dent in people living on the streets.” Ward said.

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Mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass said she wants to house 15,000 people by the end of her first year if elected mayor. Candidate Rick Caruso wants to create 30,000 shelter beds in his first 300 days. Councilmember Kevin de León, another mayoral candidate, said he would vote to create 16,000 new beds in each council district over the next five years.

How many of those would be group shelters isn’t clear, but unhoused people living on the streets prefer to have private living spaces versus being inside congregate shelter environments.

Veronica Lewis, director of the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System, said this is especially true for unhoused people struggling with addiction.

“Recovery bridge housing is meant to be for people who want to abstain, but we don't have a separation for people who are still actively using,” Lewis said. “So some unhoused people will leave the housing because they don't want to be around people who are still using.”

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to create a new homelessness department, which is supposed to centralize authority and create more accountability to speed up efforts to get people off the streets.

Ward said having a centralized unit would be critical in helping people get off the streets. Over 40% of unhoused people who responded said the most common factor that prevented them from moving into housing was that no one contacted them to complete the housing intake process. Ward attributed this to a possible high overturn in caseworkers.

“I think shortening that time and coming to people with housing in hand more or less, saying, ‘we have this housing for you right now, come with me,’ versus weeks or months it takes to put people in permanent supportive housing,” Ward said. “Anything that shortens that time could be important.”

Ward would also like to see an ongoing effort to count unhoused people in certain areas like Skid Row, not just one point in time count a year, adding the county would be doing themselves a favor by increased frequency of data collecting.

Here are some other key findings among people surveyed in Skid Row, Hollywood, Venice and “Veteran’s Row”:

  • Between late September 2021 and January 2022, the total number of unsheltered people, vehicles, tents, and makeshift structures in Skid Row, Hollywood, and Venice increased by around 17%.
  • Over 75% of respondents have been continuously homeless for over a year, and over 50% have been continuously homeless for more than three years. 
  • The share of people who responded who identified as Black/African American was 38% higher in their sample than in 2020 data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The share of people who identify as Hispanic was 24% lower.
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