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Housing and Homelessness

L.A. City Councilmember Nithya Raman: 'We Don't Have Shelter Beds Available'

The entrance to a bridge home is shown. The building is white and has a wheelchair ramp leading up to the intake area.
A Bridge Home shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. L.A. City Councilmember Nithya Raman says there is a lot of misunderstanding on the lack of available beds in her district and throughout the city.
(Ethan Ward
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What was dubbed the storm of the season brought record rainfall to Los Angeles this week, along with evacuations and flooding. People experiencing homelessness were exposed to temperatures as low as the 30s, and it was even colder in the Antelope Valley, where temperatures dropped into the 20s.

In downtown L.A., the normal daytime temperature during this time of year is 67 degrees. Ramon Rios, a 36-year-old unhoused man, said the past three days have been “freezing.”

“Especially when it was raining, I got wet,” Rios said. “It was really cold. But nice people were out here handing out gloves and socks. There’s a lot of good people out here.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Vanessa Zafari is unhoused and lost her tent after a cleanup of an encampment at 6th and Main streets in Downtown nearly three months ago.

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“I just got this tent last night,” she said on Wednesday, pointing to a green tent she said was donated. “This whole time I didn’t have one … I was out in the rain.”

Both Rios and Zafari said they are hoping to get shelter. But there’s a lack of available beds throughout the city.

“People think there are shelter beds available and people aren't going in,” L.A. District 4 City Councilmember Nithya Raman said in a phone interview. “But in my district, trying to find locations for my unhoused residents? We don't have shelter beds available.”

Raman, whose district includes neighborhoods that stretch from Sherman Oaks to Mid-Wilshire, said the city’s two biggest sources of shelter are A Bridge Home and Project Roomkey, which each have roughly 1,200 beds. In a tweet, Raman said the Bridge Home shelter in her district is full and there’s a waiting list.

Zafari, the unhoused woman downtown, had thoughts about waiting lists based on her experiences in L.A. City Councilmember Kevin de León’s district.

“I think the waiting list is a crock of s–-t,” she said. “I don't know anyone on a waiting list that ever got a call.”

A Bridge Home is a program launched in 2018 by the mayor and city council to took advantage of a new state law that allows housing to be built quickly on land owned or leased by the city. It’s meant to be a place of refuge for unhoused people, complete with support programs, until they can find permanent housing. These shelters provide unhoused people a place to sleep, but they lack privacy.

Project Roomkey is a joint effort by the state, county and city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that secured hotel and motel rooms for unhoused people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These rooms allow unhoused people to have their own room with a door that locks. The federal government reimburses 100% of Project Roomkey sites, but — as of now — only through the end of March 2022.

“If there's someone on the street right now that wants to go indoors, I don't have a place to send them," Raman said. "The capacity of all of these facilities are maxed out and I think a lot of people think that's not the case. We desperately need more shelter beds and we need more housing in Los Angeles.”

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I asked Raman if the city council could rally the hotel industry again and offer to pay owners to house people experiencing homelessness until more permanent solutions come online.

If there's someone on the street right now that wants to go indoors, I don't have a place to send them.
— L.A. City Councilmember Nithya Raman

“We did have a number of hotels that did participate in Project Roomkey,” Raman said. “But the reality is, if we wanted to keep doing it, we would need to find a source of funding from the state or federal government. It’s a huge cost to rent entire hotels and take them into this process.”

The state has made significant investments in Project Homekey, which allows the city to buy hotels and turn them into interim housing for people experiencing homelesssness, according to Raman. She said the city is in talks to find future Homekey sites.

“If you purchase a hotel right now, in the short term, it can be used as interim housing,” Raman said. “But purchasing motels and hotels that are already built doesn’t reduce cost as much as you would think, but it does reduce the cost of being able to add units to the total housing stock.”

For people experiencing homelessness this winter, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has opened temporary emergency shelters throughout L.A. County that provide beds, food and access to supportive services. There are roughly 29,000 unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the city of L.A. The shelters offer a total of 315 beds until March.

To learn more about their locations, you can read our explainer or call the Winter Shelter Hotline at 1-(800)-548-6047 that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To learn more about how the homelessness crisis grew to what it has become today, check out our other explainer to get you up to speed: Understanding LA’s Homelessness Issues.

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