Unhoused People Want Empathy As They Navigate Temporary Shelter Offers
Ongoing enforcement of the city’s anti-camping laws have brought offers of shelter, but continues to displace unhoused residents around the city.
Michael Banyard, an unhoused man, was twice on the receiving end of displacement. He was living at an encampment that was “cleaned” and “cleared” on Harper Blvd. in the Wilshire area earlier this month. Signs went up two weeks before alerting the people living there that they had to be gone by Feb. 21, according to Banyard. So he moved his tent and belongings down the street to an encampment located at a nearby Petco.
“There weren't too many tents so I thought I would go that way,” Barnyard said. “I was barely there a week before a notice went up.”
The notices are part of the city’s anti-camping ordinance, 41.18. The ordinance forbids anyone from sitting, lying or sleeping near spots such as libraries, parks, or schools. The ordinance is part of the city’s new street engagement strategy championed by suspended city councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas. The signs are only allowed to go up if the council district has done meaningful outreach to unhoused people to offer shelter.
Banyard has been able to hold on to his belongings because he moves everything ahead of enforcement that's accompanied by the Los Angeles Police Department.
“They told us if we didn't get our stuff out in 15 mins they were gonna throw it away,” Barnyard said referring to the LAPD. Barnyard said he dreams of days relaxing in his own backyard and making food on the grill, but is just looking for a place where he will have peace of mind.
Banyard found his peace of mind in a tent the size of a small studio apartment in the Beverly Grove neighborhood where he lives with his dog, Luna. Banyard offers insight into why many unhoused people are hesitant to accept offers of shelter and how negative experiences have bred a culture of distrust for services offered by the city, no matter how well-intentioned.
Banyard previously told LAist in November he had been in contact with an outreach worker from LAHSA at one time, a woman who never returned. He said a few more outreach workers would come by over the next few months, all asking for his information so they could follow up.
On Feb. 21, the day of the Harper Ave. enforcement, Banyard said he was told there was an offer of shelter for him, but he would need to be packed up and ready to go within 30 minutes. He could only bring two bags.
“I just can't move like that,” Barnyard said. “I been waiting all that time and now you tell me I got 30 minutes or nothing? Maybe if they had given me until the next day.”
The sudden disruption, and all the choices that had to be made within 30 minutes caused a lot of anxiety, according to Banyard. He needed time to figure out what to do with Luna and to decide what to keep or throw away.
“It was too much of a loss I can take,” Banyard said. “Every human being needs to be loved by something or someone. I don't have no one telling me they love me. This dog is the only thing I have to love. That right there is more important to me than any rain hitting my head.”
Ahmad Chapman, communications director for LAHSA, previously told LAist that outreach teams do engagement by using a Best Practices For Addressing Street Encampments and that outreach efforts consist of building rapport and trust by offering them services that meet their immediate needs.
The Street Is The Only Guaranteed Reality
Banyard said he knows there are housed people who won’t understand why he didn’t accept the offer of shelter. But he said when you’ve been on the streets long enough, promises just sound good. That’s why he offered his spot to another older man at his encampment who was dealing with health issues. The man ended up at a Project Roomkey located in Hollywood, according to Banyard, who said the man returned a few weeks later to share he would have to find another place.
“He told me they are closing it up and returning it to a regular hotel,” Banyard said. “He don’t know where he is going and he’s planning to come back to the streets. It's the only real reality he knows will be guaranteed. Everything else is maybe this and maybe that.”
He don’t know where he is going and he’s planning to come back to the streets. It's the only real reality he knows will be guaranteed.
Banyard said that would have been him if he agreed to take the original offer of shelter. But he wouldn’t have his belongings, or Luna, and be forced to start over again.
“That’s frustrating,” Banyard said. “Your ego has already been killed a long time ago. You try to hold on to a little self-esteem in the process and it's not easy to do.”
Distrust of offers of housing that don’t lead anywhere didn’t happen overnight. A UCLA report found that a year after Echo Park Lake was cleared, only 1 in 10 residents have found permanent supportive housing, received a subsidized rental or some other long-term housing.
The report described the current system as a “shuffle” that moves unhoused people from one place to another creating the appearance of activity with little change to their housing status. Ananya Roy, a UCLA professor and co-author of the report told LAist that temporary offers of shelter rarely lead to permanent housing and breaks connections that people who are unhoused have formed.
There are some shelters that take people experiencing homelessness and their pets and Banyard said he would go. California State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D - Van Nuys) previously told LAist he was working on getting SB 513 passed, a bill that would create a permanent grant program for shelters providing a place to sleep, food and basic veterinary services for pets of unhoused residents.
But Banyard said housed people have also been partly why he is reluctant to re-enter society: the public shunning.
“Back in the biblical days that was used as a punishment or weapon,” Banyard said, referring to housed people who see him and cross the street to get away. “They treat us like we are disgraceful people who have done harm to the country or something.”
Barnyard didn’t always live on the streets. After serving time in prison, he was released and landed a full-time job along with an apartment. He said he was happy. But after he was let go from his job due to the economy, things began to spiral.
“I lost my apartment, I lost my girlfriend, I lost everything,” he said.
Learn more about how you can help an unhoused neighbor here.