L.A. City Councilman Proposes "Triage" Approach To Homelessness

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Saying the city needs a ``triage'' approach to the homeless problem in Skid Row, a Los Angeles City Councilman today proposed installing a large number of emergency shelter trailers in the area -- enough to ``meet the need'' of the estimated 2,000 people who sleep on the streets there every night.

Councilman Jose Huizar introduced a motion that would have city staff study the number of beds needed, cost estimates and potential sites for a plan in Skid Row similar to one in the works on a much smaller scale near the El Pueblo Historical Monument.

``I've always said that for Skid Row we need triage, emergency, immediate shelter assistance,'' Huizar told City News Service. ``What we have right now is that the service providers and shelter beds are overwhelmed and we don't have enough, so why not do this triage type emergency approach, which is what we did at El Pueblo.''

He added, ``We're not just putting them in a trailers, we're putting them in contact with services and on a path to recovery.''

If the plan were to come to fruition, it would mark a major shift in the city's approach and financial commitment to the homeless problem, as its largest effort in recent years has focused on encouraging the construction of permanent housing through $1.2 billion in voter-approved bonds under Proposition HHH, which was passed in 2016.

``We've accepted the situation on Skid Row, and we shouldn't. So this is a drastic departure from allowing people just to sleep on the street and accepting the fact that we have no shelters,'' Huizar said.

Skid Row has long been the epicenter of the city's homeless population, where scores of people have slept on the streets for decades despite efforts by the city and county to bring outreach services and help to the area.

Huizar said about $20 million would be needed to get the program up and running as a ``back-of-the-envelope'' estimate. He also said that funds from Measure H, a county voter-approved sales tax estimated to raise $355 million annually for homeless services, could potentially be used to provide some of the supportive help services.

``The human suffering, it costs us more right now, in ambulance services, police services and the human suffering that is going on that you can't put in dollars. It will be worth it to come up with that money once we identify how much it will cost,'' Huizar said.

Just this week a City Council committee moved forward with the plan for the emergency shelter trailers near the El Pueblo Historical Monument, which would consist of three trailers for beds, one trailer to house administrative workers and case management services, and one hygiene trailer with restrooms, showers and laundry facilities, with a goal of transitioning residents into permanent housing within six months.

Huizar said the El Pueblo site would cost about $1.4 million to install and $1.4 million annually to operate, and that the overall rough estimate is about $60 per person per night.

Using estimates from the El Pueblo site, Huizar said, ``I want to do the metrics. About 2,000 people sleep on the street each night. How do we house them and put them in shelters and do a holistic approach.''

Martin Schlageter, Huizar's policy director, said that a total of 2,000 beds may not be needed as long as people were successfully cycled through into more permanent housing.

``Generally if you are moving people through the system you may not need 2,000 beds,'' Schlageter said.

The El Pueblo proposal has received some opposition from nearby businesses and merchants concerned it could attract more homeless to the neighborhood, but Huizar said the attitudes toward Skid Row are different because of the magnitude of the problem there.

``We don't foresee opposition, because what could be worse that what's there now?'' he said. ``I think this is the type of approach that people have been waiting for and that people want to see.''

The motion was seconded by council members Mike Bonin and Bob Blumenfield. Huizar he's had some preliminary talks with Mayor Eric Garcetti about the proposal and was scheduled to meet with him later today to discuss it.

The El Pueblo proposal came from a task force formed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to brainstorm how to get thousands of unsheltered people off the streets.

Homelessness in the city of Los Angeles jumped by 20 percent in 2017, while the county saw a spike of 23 percent, according to the results of the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

In the city, the total number of homeless went up to an estimated 34,189 and the county number increased to 57,794.

Photo: Getty Images

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