Plan to House Homeless in Trailers Near El Pueblo Gets Final Approval

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A councilman's proposal to house about five dozen homeless people in trailers on a downtown lot as a possible model for citywide temporary shelters was given final approval today by the Los Angeles City Council.

The plan is part of a larger strategy being pushed by Councilman Jose Huizar and several other council members, with Mayor Eric Garcetti's support, to install a large number of trailers around the city to give shelter to the homeless and transition them into permanent supportive housing.

``It's a very different approach to what the city has taken before,'' Huizar said after the 11-0 vote. ``Now, what's at stake here is this -- this is the first time that we are trying it anywhere in the city, and El Pueblo will show us that it can be done because we have plans to do it throughout the city.''

A motion outlining the plan was introduced in January by Huizar and approved in February by the full City Council, which today signed off on a Bureau of Engineering report finding that the project has a categorical exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Huizar said earlier this week that he'd held off in February on a ``full vote'' on the project pending significant outreach to businesses and merchants near El Pueblo, as some objected to the plan. A series of community meetings have since been held, and Huizar said he also held a meeting Tuesday night.

``When the merchants came out to the last meeting, there (were) over 15 to 30 of them here, really upset because they had not been talked to about the plan,'' Huizar said. ``And in anything we do, whether we are creating permanent supportive housing or these types of shelters, there's always going to be neighbors that don't want them there. And it's not to say that we are going to agree with them ... but we should at least go out and talk to them and they are probably going to give us input that can makes this a better plan.''

Huizar said he told the merchants that the city will reassess the plan six months after the project's implementation, and also added an amendment to his motion to that effect.

The plan calls for five trailers to be installed on a city-owned parking lot at Arcadia and Alameda streets to house people who sleep on the sidewalks in the area around the historic El Pueblo site off Main Street. It marks a significant new approach in how the city is looking to tackle the problem of homelessness.

Another motion introduced by Huizar, and approved by the City Council last week, will have the city study the feasibility of taking the same approach on a much larger scale in nearby Skid Row, where an estimated 2,000 people sleep on the streets every night. Councilmen Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris- Dawson also recently introduced a motion calling for a study on the feasibility of providing a safe place for the city's entire homeless population as an alternative to sidewalk encampments.

``I just want to take a second and praise my colleague for the political courage that's involved here. This is not popular,'' Councilman Gil Cedillo said before the vote. ``We have resources. The people of Los Angeles have spoken. It's clear what the crisis is and we have political leadership here that's willing to do that.''

He added, ``While everyone wants to address the challenges of homelessness, no one wants it near where they are, and yet they fail to recognize that if we do not confront it head-on that it will continue to proliferate.''

The El Pueblo motion says the trailers could be installed and operated for six months at a cost of $2 million, and Huizar said the annual cost after that would be about $1.4 million.

The trailer proposal came from a task force formed by the mayor to brainstorm how to get thousands of unsheltered people off the streets. The initiative to provide temporary shelter is a new strategy for the city, which has focused primarily on encouraging the construction of 10,000 units permanent housing through $1.2 billion in voter-approved bonds under Measure HHH, which was passed in 2016.

Although the 10-year plan outlined by HHH would take years for a significant amount of the units built, Huizar noted that the council is working on plans to speed up construction by cutting a lot of the red tape and oversight involved, as well as by reducing the parking requirements. Earlier this week, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which Huizar chairs, approved a motion outlining the proposal, along with a second motion that would facilitate the conversion of motels into supportive housing.

``The crisis is now and we want to build more sooner. Just because we say it's a 10-year plan doesn't mean that we cannot accelerate it as quickly as we can,'' Huizar said.

The El Pueblo plan is to install three trailers for beds, one trailer to house administrative workers and case management services, and one hygiene trailer with restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. Huizar said the hope is that the people who stay there could be transitioned into permanent housing within six months through the on-site services they would receive.

Many of the merchants near El Pueblo who have objected to the plan expressed fears that the trailers would attract more homeless to the area. Huizar said the city's studies have not found that to be true, and also that the El Pueblo shelters will be provided for the people already in the area.

``There may be some people who come here because they feel, it's better, Los Angeles, they are providing services, better weather, whatever that may be. But that percentage of individuals is not as high was some people think it is,'' he said.

Huizar estimates the site would cost an average of about $60 per bed per night to operate, which is an estimate that can be applied to other trailer sites under consideration, including the Skid Row proposal, which he said may need $20 million to get up and running as a ``back-of-the-envelope'' estimate.

Homelessness in the city of Los Angeles jumped by 20 percent in 2017 while L.A. 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 34,189 and the county number increased to 57,794.

Photo: Getty Images

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