Former L.A. Children's Museum Could Become Temporary Homeless Shelter

LOS ANGELES (CNS)- The City Council unanimously voted today to explore converting the former L.A. Children's Museum located in the Los Angeles Civic Center Mall into a temporary homeless shelter. 

While there is no estimate yet on the cost or number of beds that could result from the conversion, the potential use of the 13,000-square-foot facility represents a new approach to the city's large-scale temporary shelter program as a possible shift away from the use of tents and trailers and more toward existing brick-and-mortar locations.

The museum shelter space could be used to help house some of the 2,000-plus homeless people who sleep on the streets of nearby Skid Row or for any homeless people in the downtown area, Councilman Jose Huizar said.

``It is imperative that we move forward with a plan to bring emergency, temporary bridge housing to serve the thousands who sleep on the streets of Skid Row as quickly as possible and I fully support utilizing the Civic Center site for that purpose,'' Huizar said. 

``While this is a step forward, there is a sea of despair and humanity in Skid Row. It is untenable. It is the very definition of an emergency, and we need treat it as such. I want to see the city expand this search to other appropriate private- and state-owned buildings and properties so that we can house all the unsheltered individuals in Skid Row.''Mayor Eric Garcetti's ``A Bridge Home'' program, approved by the City Council this year, freed up $20 million in budget funds for the 2017-18 fiscal year for temporary homeless shelters. There is also an additional $10 million in budget funds that could be used for shelters, along with $45 million in state funds. Both Huizar and Garcetti have said that $20 million of that funding could be used just for Skid Row. 

The city has already constructed one temporary shelter near the El Pueblo historical monument to house about 45 people. That site represented what was to be the model of using parking lots to construct temporary trailers and tents for shelters to help control the massive growth of the city's homeless population that has spiked in recent years to over 31,000. But Huizar said the city has learned many lessons from the El Pueblo site, and one of them is that existing buildings might be better, and more cost-effective to use as temporary shelters. 

The former children's museum, which is across the street from City Hall, has been closed for years, but is owned by the city and is slated to eventually be demolished sometime in the next 15 years as part of an overall redesign of the Civic Center.``The city has never really allocated money for emergency shelters, but the money is there, it's ready to be put to use. Our challenge now is to find the sites and actually come up with a model that makes sense,'' Huizar said. 

``El Pueblo was the first one, and we learned a lot.``It was more expensive that originally anticipated. It wasn't designed initially in a way that some of our homeless advocates said people would actually use,'' he said. 

``We didn't have places for them to be during the day. It's almost like, `Sleep here, but then go sit out in the blistering sun after you get out of your trailer.' ... So the city is learning a lot in the design. It's not in the business of building shelters, and now we are. We're doing it, so we're learning from El Pueblo.''The vote by the City Council clears the way for city staff to explore using the museum space and to lease a private warehouse space at 1426 Paloma St. for a temporary shelter. 

The Bridge Home program calls for the city to construct the temporary shelters to last for up to three years while the city works to construct thousands of units of permanent supportive housing units through Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure approved by city voters in 2016. The Bridge Home program was first proposed by Garcetti during his State of the City speech in April, in which he said the city needed to offer more immediate help to the homeless population while the permanent units are being built. 

The rollout of the program has not gone smoothly in Koreatown, where a proposed shelter site has triggered numerous protests. But other sites have been proposed around the city with little to no opposition. 

Although the total of $75 million in city and state funding available this year is the city's first major investment in temporary shelters, it still falls well short of what would likely be needed to get the majority of unsheltered homeless people off the streets. A recent report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates that it would cost more than $657 million in the first year alone to provide interim housing for every unsheltered homeless person in the city of Los Angeles, a number that dwarfs the current total available.

``What this says is there are going to be tens of thousands of people sleeping on the streets and on our sidewalks for a long time to come, unless we come up with the resources and the will to spend an additional half billion dollars a year and hire 1,400 to 1,500 new people,'' Councilman Mike Bonin said in June while reviewing the report during a committee meeting. 

``That's ...sad and sobering, but it probably unfortunately is realistic.''

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