LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Nearly a year since he unveiled an effort to install temporary emergency shelters for the homeless around the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti continued to express support for the plan today, despite significant opposition that has sprung up in some neighborhoods.
During his State of the City speech in April 2018, Garcetti announced the “A Bridge Home” program, which is designed to install trailers, large tents or safe parking facilities to help homeless people transition off the street.
Although proposed shelters have been strongly opposed by some community leaders in Venice, Sherman Oaks and Koreatown, Garcetti told reporters Wednesday the three bridge sites that are already operational have been “pretty uncontroversial.”
Of a bridge facility located at a YWCA in Hollywood, Garcetti said “the impact has been -- like people don't even know -- it's like a zero impact.”
“There's three schools within walking distance and some parents were worried about what it was going to be, but Councilman Mitch O'Farrell worked with them and really turned them into strong supporters,” Garcetti said. “And the kids put together welcome home baskets to greet the 75 individuals who moved into the beds this week.”
The Bridge Home program was given a $20 million budget for this fiscal year, with services at the sites to be provided with county funds. Since the program's start, the city also received $85 million from the state as a one-
time emergency grant for homeless programs, some of which has been dedicated to the Bridge Home program, and the city has also expanded its approach to include converting existing structures into bridge shelters.
Garcetti predicted that 15 bridge shelters would be either under construction or completed by the end of the year.
The Bridge Home program is intended to work in conjunction with Measure HHH, a 2016 voter-approved city bond measure expected to raise $1.2 billion over 10 years for permanent supportive housing, and Measure H, a sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2017 that's expected to raise $355 million annually for homeless services.
Support services and outreach workers are located at each bridge facility with the goal of transitioning the residents into more permanent housing. The program also calls for increased cleanups of homeless encampments in the neighborhood surrounding a bridge site.
Even with the spike in available HHH funds, the permanent supportive housing units take years to get approved and built. None are yet operational, although Garcetti said 102 projects are in the works.
On Tuesday, Garcetti helped cut the ribbon at PATH Metro Villas, a permanent supportive housing facility in East Hollywood that was developed as a collaboration among private and public partners, including a $12 million investment from UnitedHealthcare.
A second phase of the facility funded by HHH dollars is set to open in 2020, and Garcetti predicted that within three or four years, once more HHH sites open and there are “not just ground breakings but ribbon cuttings,” a double-digit drop in the rate of homelessness will happen each year as part of his plan to essentially end street homelessness by the 2028 Olympics.
The 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found that more than 31,000 people are homeless in the city, including more than 23,000 living without shelter, which were both slight drops from the previous year after years of increases.
Although he continued to express optimism about the program, not everyone has been pleased with the Bridge Home program. A proposed shelter in Koreatown near Wilshire Boulevard sparked a series of street demonstrations until City Council President Herb Wesson abandoned the site for an alternative one, and another site approved recently by the council in Venice was vocally opposed by some local residents and community leaders.
A common fear expressed was that the facilities would not alleviate the homeless problem but just attract more homeless to the area.
“The location is terrible. It's surrounded by residents. It's going to endanger residents' lives,” Venice resident Travis Bennett said at a City Council meeting in December. “It's right by the beach, which is where a lot of the transients are drinking and doing drugs.”
The City Council on Wednesday approved a new bridge housing facility to be located at 7621 Canoga Ave. Although most of the bridge shelters have been designed to be temporary and be in operation for about three years, Councilman Bob Blumenfield said the Canoga facility would be the city's first permanent bridge site dedicated to providing temporary and transitional housing.
“When the mayor announced his plan for Bridge Housing throughout Los Angeles, I knew that I wanted to help create something in the West Valley that could have a permanent impact,” Blumenfield said. “Thanks to the partnership and leadership of Supervisor (Sheila) Kuehl, we were able to leverage this funding with the services provided by the county to create a facility that will help our community's most vulnerable for many years to come.”
The Canoga site used to serve as a county mental health facility. Under a plan outlined by Blumenfield and Kuehl, the city will allocate a conditional grant of $4.3 million to the county to purchase the property, then the county will renovate it and provide no less than 15 years of homeless services.
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